Frazier a “longshot” to play in NCAA opener but is available

Illinois+Chester+Frazier+cheers+after+teammate+Mike+Davis+scored+from+a+dunk+at+the+Big+Ten+conference+game+against+the+University+of+Michigan+held+at+Conseco+Fieldhouse+in+Indianapolis%2C+Indiana+on+Friday%2C+March+13%2C+2009.%0A

Illinois’ Chester Frazier cheers after teammate Mike Davis scored from a dunk at the Big Ten conference game against the University of Michigan held at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana on Friday, March 13, 2009.

By Jeremy Werner

Chester Frazier was relocated from his on-the-court coaching role as Illinois’ starting point guard to on-the-bench support during last weekend’s Big Ten Tournament.

Out with an injury to his right hand, the senior who hopes to become a coach had his first experience of being tethered to the sideline.

“I’m kind of hoarse right now,” Frazier said Sunday after learning of the Illini’s No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. “I get to see how Coach (Bruce) Weber feels. I’m screaming and yelling. It’s different watching the game from the bench and not being on the court. It hurt, but I had fun doing it.”

Word of Frazier’s hand injury’s severity, sustained during a March 11 practice, has been locked tighter than a confidential government file. Frazier, Weber and University officials have avoided answering whether the senior leader suffered a fracture or not, per Frazier’s request.

For now, the hand is wrapped in a soft cast. Frazier wiggled his fingers to the media to show he can slightly move it with no impression of pain. His status for Thursday’s first-round matchup with No. 12 seed Western Kentucky remains unclear.

Frazier met with physicians Tuesday to check on the hand. But the decision to play will not likely be made by any doctor.

“I need a Chester Frazier clearance,” Frazier said. “It’s basically up to me. It’s my career. It’s my life. It’s my hand. Nobody else can tell me what to do with my body. I’ve been throwing my body around my whole four years here. It’s all out right now. It’s the end of my career, so I feel like I need to make the most of it.”

Team trainer Al Martindale has been going through prototypes of a protective brace for Frazier to wear and may use a batter’s glove or receiver’s glove with a form of padding.

Weber said if Frazier was a shooter, he would likely not play in the NCAA Tournament. But the All-Big Ten Defensive Team guard simply gives the Illini a leadership presence on the court they otherwise lack.

Weber said Frazier is a “longshot” to play Thursday but could be used if necessary.

“Even with pain, if he can just pass and dribble — I don’t think he cares about the shooting that much — he’ll be out there,” Weber said. “We could have used him against Purdue (on Saturday) when things started to go bad, not that he could get shots, but he’s a stabilizing factor.”

So what are the chances Frazier will be on the court instead of acting as another assistant coach on the Illini bench?

“If I know Chester, he’ll be back next week,” junior Dominique Keller said.

Bench time

With Frazier’s status uncertain, Illinois will rely on bigger contributions from its bench for success in the tournament.

Senior Calvin Brock, a 6-foot-5 wing, replaced Frazier in the starting lineup for the Big Ten Tournament and averaged nine points and five rebounds in two games.

Sophomore guard Jeff Jordan will likely see his role continue to increase because of his Frazier-like tenacity on defense. Jordan had six assists in 34 minutes during the two tournament games.

“If anything with Chester’s injury, the positive was that the bench got to be more involved,” Weber said. “I think they got a little more confidence over the weekend.”

Weber’s history with WKU

Western Kentucky may be an obscure university to most. But for Weber, the school will always have a special significance.

Weber spent one season as an assistant coach under then-Hilltoppers head coach Gene Keady in 1980 while he earned his master’s degree. Weber then followed Keady to Purdue the next season and stayed on staff for 18 seasons before taking the head coaching job at Southern Illinois in 1998.

The WKU gig was Weber’s first paid coaching job.

“For me it was just an opportunity to get into the coaching world,” Weber said. “I only made $2,000 and had to call home a lot of times and then finally asked my wife to get married because I didn’t have any money. But it was a great opportunity, and after that the rest is history.”