The simple thing for Michael Frazier would have been to stay the course, but those who know him best say that's just not his nature.
When Frazier left Plant High in 2011 after his junior season, he had 1,902 career points. He needed 98 to become just the 13th player in Hillsborough County history to reach 2,000, and 638 (about 25.5 per game) to break the county record held by Russell Evans (Plant City 1988-91). Frazier averaged 29.7 points as a junior, so the record was within reach.
Instead the Tampa native chose to think big picture, opting to transfer to Montverde Academy near Orlando for his senior season to hone his game and compete among players as talented or more than himself.
"I don't think it was hard to walk away because I wanted to win and get better as a player, and I felt like making that move to Montverde would get me ready for the next step, which was going to college at the time, and it would make me a better player," Frazier said.
He returns to Tampa today, when the Gators play Middle Tennessee State at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, eager to play in front of family and friends.
"I'm definitely excited to go back home and see my family, and have my family see me play, have the opportunity," Frazier said. "It's exciting."
Frazier (6 feet 4, 200 pounds) has played 39 minutes in two games this season, averaging 5.5 points. Against No. 22 Wisconsin last week, Frazier had eight points and five rebounds.
With injuries and the three-game suspension of guard Scottie Wilbekin, Frazier has spent more time at the three position, adapting well. Coach Billy Donovan said there are three key factors that help him decide if a freshman can step in quickly: understanding how competitive the collegiate game is, being physically able to play at that level, and understanding the system.
"I think Michael's proven that he can (physically compete), with the way he rebounds the basketball," Donovan said. "There's areas where he's got to get better, but Michael's not afraid of putting his body in play. Then the third thing is, do you know what we're doing? And I think Michael's picked it up, because he's been at the two, it's a little bit easier adjustment going from the two to the three. … I think Michael's got a level of toughness, he's got a level of competitiveness, he's not afraid to put his body in place. And I think he's always had confidence in what he does well."
Frazier said his only expectation coming in was to work as hard as he could, then see where that got him.
His teammates say, so far, he's doing just that.
"He's just been stepping up," senior guard Mike Rosario said. "Anything coach asks him to do, and that's with all the young guys, they've come in with the same mind-set of working hard and being focused. But particularly with Mike, he knows that he plays a big part because he can shoot the ball. He's versatile, he's 6-4, and we need him, especially on the backboard."
"He's played well," added senior forward Erik Murphy. "Mike is a tough kid, he comes in and tries to do what is asked of him. He tries to do all the right things, he plays the right way and he obviously knocks down shots, and that's a big thing."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]