Although Frazier committed to Illinois over the Lumberjacks among six other programs in August of 2016, their relationship evidently came in handy once Underwood replaced John Groce as the next head coach of the Fighting Illini in March 2017. While he possessed the opportunity to request his release from the school, he said he couldn’t imagine departing because of his previously developed relationship with Underwood.
Now, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound freshman is finding a rhythm on both ends of the court with Illinois, averaging 15 points over his last seven games. He’s also shooting 42.3 percent from the field during that stretch compared his to 36.3 percent clip in his first 10 games.
“Brad’s an unbelievable coach,” Frazier said. “Probably the best coach I’ve ever played for…he trusts me to make plays. Coming into the season, he didn’t really have that confidence in me because I was a freshman, not making any shots, a lot of turnovers. I’ve cleaned that up, and he really believes in me.”
Illinois started this game 1-19 from the field.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 4, 2018
The Wellington, Fla. native is even racking up 2.3 steals per contest amid the aforementioned span. Overall, he ranks third in the Big Ten with 1.6 swipes per game. Underwood credited that towards his tenacity for crashing through ball screens and failing to lend defenders much space despite his smaller stature.
“You saw them (the Michigan Wolverines) stop right across halfcourt,” Underwood said. “(They) just put the breaks on. They’re not getting the ball into scoring areas to run offense. Trent’s got to fight. That’s one of the reasons when I was at Stephen F. I was recruiting him so hard. Because I thought he could be that guy to replace the guy I lost. A ball hawk.”
Moreover, Underwood stated Frazier is the third or fourth quickest point guard he has ever coached, comparing him to former Kansas State guard Denis Clemente — who he coached as an assistant with Wildcats from 2008-10 — and ex-Oklahoma State guard Jawun Evans. Following the Cowboys’ 0-6 start in Big 12 play last season, Evans led them to the NCAA tournament in Underwood’s lone campaign with the team.
Even though the Illini rank just 149th in offensive efficiency among Division I schools, Frazier has sped up their offense considerably. The group is tied for the 30th-best pace in the country, notching 76.1 possessions per game. One of the two programs they’re even with is Creighton, which boasts the sixth-highest offensive efficiency in the sport.
“We wanna recruit (guys like Frazier) that way,” Underwood said. “We need that speed. The way the game’s officiated today, you gotta be able to put pressure on the defense with speed.”
Frazier said his confidence stems from coming off the bench in Illinois’ first 16 games, as he needed to provide more energy than those on the first unit. In the 79-69 loss at Michigan on Saturday, he entered the starting lineup for point guard Te’Jon Lucas, who came off the bench for the lone time this season. He’s producing a mere 5.8 points in 20.1 minutes per game.
Additionally, Frazier cited assistant coach Ron “Chin” Coleman for his help with making the right reads in the pick-and-roll offense. He said he’s focusing on representing a pass-first point guard, too.
Nevertheless, excluding the Illini’s second half explosion against Maryland — scoring 49 points in final 20 minutes of regulation — they’ve posted 68 points per contest in their three other Big Ten matchups. Frazier believed their struggles stem from delivering just one pass that leads to a shot on a given possession.
“When we get it to the third side (of the floor), it’s (success) showing,” Frazier said. “We get the shots we want. We score a ton of times when we run and execute his (Underwood’s) plays.”
Individually, Frazier struggled in the turnover department against Michigan on Saturday, tallying five miscues. He stated they occurred because he was predetermining his next move instead of just attacking off of ball screens.
“That’s why experience is invaluable,” Underwood said. “You start seeing coverage from the opposite low corner or traps. When it’s the first time, sometimes it throws you off a little bit. Those are the adjustments we have to continually make with this group when they haven’t seen ’em before. I expect Trent to be fine (with turnovers); he’s the one guy that’s got tremendous confidence, and he’s got a pretty high I.Q.”