Though his decision to leave school early for the 2015 NBA Draft was met with disappointment from fans, Florida Gators junior guard Michael Frazier II feels comfortable and confident that the time was right for him to take the next step in his basketball-playing career.
Frazier, who many believed would remain in college for one more season to hone his skills and help the 2015-16 Gators rebound from the program’s worst campaign in nearly two decades, spoke exclusively with OnlyGators.com on Friday about his decision to leave Florida and try his hand at being a professional.
“I [made the decision] a couple days ago,” he said. “I felt like I had accomplished a lot and had a lot of success, had a positive experience, broke a couple records at Florida. I just felt like it was time for me to take my game to a professional level and see how good I can actually be. I felt I was ready to take that next step.”
Two points shy of reaching 1,000 for his career, Frazier holds two Gators program records: most three-pointers in a game (11 at South Carolina on March 4, 2014) and most consecutive games with a made triple (41). He is also seventh all-time at Florida in three-point field goal percentage (.432), attempts (525) and makes (227).
While Frazier feels like he has performed well for the Gators, he did not take his decision to leave school lightly. He consulted his family and sat down with head coach Billy Donovan to go over his options.
“I talked to him at length,” Frazier said. “He shared with me his thoughts on it and then I told him I would take his thoughts into consideration and that I need to see what my family has to say.
“He basically told me whatever decision I make, whether I decide to stay at school for another year or to go pro, that he and the coaching staff was going to support my decision and anything they could do to help, they would.”
Telling Donovan he would be leaving the program was not easy, according to Frazier, but as he has been in the past with other players that decided to depart with eligibility remaining, Donovan was supportive.
“He wished me the best. He was really concerned about me finishing school and my ankle getting to 100 percent before I hit workouts really hard and grinding,” Frazier shared. “He wanted to let me know he would be there when I needed him.”
Frazier suffered a high-ankle sprain against Kentucky on Feb. 7 and missed seven straight games while on the mend. Florida went 3-4 in those contests – losing consecutive games by a single point – and was unable to recover even when Frazier returned for its regular-season finale.
Obviously hobbled and far from completely healthy, Frazier went 2-for-16 from the field in 19.3 minutes per game over the Gators’ final three contests.
On Friday, he explained his rationale for returning prior to being fully functional, noting that it was not an attempt to play for Florida one last time before moving on.
“No, actually, I hadn’t given any thought to coming back or leaving while I was in the season. I wanted to finish the season out strong and then after the season think about that. It had nothing to do with me thinking maybe it would be my last time playing because I hadn’t given it any thought while we were in the season,” he explained.
“I was still focused on winning games and keeping our season alive. We would’ve liked to win the SEC Tournament, obviously, and then get a bid for the NCAA Tournament and be playing right now. My decision to come back early was I felt like me being on the floor gave us the best chance of winning, even if I wasn’t 100 percent, so that’s what I did.”
Two weeks removed from the end of the season, Frazier’s high-ankle sprain is barely affecting him anymore. He feels “great” and is currently doing rehabilitation out of Clearwater, Florida, in hopes of being “back to 100 percent in no time.”
“I’m rehabbing almost every day – five days out of seven days in the week – so I’m pushing it and trying to get it better every day,” he said. “I feel like it’s getting close to 100 percent, so that’s always a good thing anytime you can see progress every day.”
After making it to the Elite Eight as a roleplayer and Final Four as a starter in the first two seasons of his career, Frazier – like the rest of the team – was perturbed by how much the Gators struggled early in the 2014-15 campaign.
Frazier on Friday summoned Donovan’s repeated comments throughout the season, noting that Florida’s unrealistic internal expectations were a detriment to the team’s focus and attention to detail.
“Coach tried to warn us before [the season], but we didn’t really listen and it kind of bit us and we could never really get it going,” he explained. “It was tough for everybody.”
But while the season was trying, especially while he was injured and unable to help the team, Frazier believes he became a better player for it, one who is now prepared to take that experience to the next level.
“Because we had a lot of adversity this year, because our season didn’t go as well as we planned – as we would have liked it to – I think I did a good job staying positive. No matter what our record was, I continued to work hard,” he said.
“I really matured and grew up in that aspect because my first two years, I never really struggled or had any type of failure because I was on two really good teams. This year it was a lot different, so it forced me to really look inside myself and just continue to grow and learn how to battle adversity.”
Those lessons ultimately helped Frazier feel confident that turning pro was the correct move to make at this time in his life. Now all he needs to do is prove to NBA teams that he is worthy of being selected in one of the draft’s 60 slots.