Just like Florida Gators basketball’s mantra was once “layups, dunks and Lee Humphrey,” the 2013-14 season was very much “layups, dunks and Michael Frazier II.”
Then a sophomore, Frazier took 38 percent of Florida’s three-point attempts and was the Gators’ second-leading scorer with 482 points (18 percent of the team’s total) despite only taking 79 shots inside the arc.
Frazier also made 11 threes in a single game, breaking a 17-year school mark for most in a single game while draining the third-most in a single contest by an SEC player and the most ever in an SEC league game.
However, he was also sixth in assists and seventh in free throw attempts, despite being the team’s best shooter at .842 in 39 games.
If Frazier wants to continue being a productive player for Florida in 2014-15, he’s going to have to step up his all-around game. That means driving the lane, helping facilitate by passing the ball, and taking his already-improved defense to another level.
“It starts with his conditioning. Is he going to be conditioned enough to work the floor enough to get himself free? If he does get a lot of help in coverages coming off screens, is he going to have the wherewithal to find the open man and make the game easy for himself?” head coach Billy Donovan pondered on Wednesday.
“It could be a situation for Mike where, in some games, he may not score. But it could be a game where he gets 5-6-7 assists and really impacts winning. He’s got to be prepared to handle that. It’s [about] making our team better. If someone wants to take him out, there’s got to be someone else that’s open. That’s part of his growth. That’s something he’s never had to experience before and something he going to be challenged with. But I think he understands that. He just hasn’t gone through it yet, so we’ll see how he responds to that.”
Frazier will also be counted on by Donovan to help fill the leadership void that suddenly arose when four seniors graduated after last season. Without Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete or Patric Young in the locker room, Frazier as a junior is the most experienced scholarship player on the roster (that has not in his first season with the team).
It’s a huge burden to put on Frazier. While redshirt seniors walk-on Jacob Kurtz and transfer Jon Horford will certainly be able to impart their knowledge on occasion, it will be Frazier who is on the court almost the entire game.
It will be Frazier who must find a way to lead after being a follower for two seasons.
“I’m concerned about that,” Donovan admitted. “I’d say the last couple of years for Michael, he’s played on some teams where he hasn’t had to do any of those things. He’s been a guy that’s been in the background a lot, was able to do the things he does well, and that’s shoot the basketball. This year is going to be different for him.
“I think he has worked very hard in really understanding that. I think he understands what he’s up against this year. It’s a little bit different when you take the floor and you’re the fourth or fifth guy on the scouting report and now you’re maybe moving to the number one guy on the scouting report. There’s a totally different set of circumstances that he has to deal with that he’s never dealt with before.”
Frazier is also faced with high expectations entering his junior campaign. Unanimously hailed as one of the best shooters in college basketball, he will not only have to deal with the aforementioned scouting reports but also outside pressure to perform at a high level and potentially consider becoming a professional after his third collegiate season.
Donovan hopes he can guide the Tampa, Florida, product when distractions occur.
“I think as a coach, I have to try to help him through that, to get through some of that stuff. But a lot of those accolades and things people are talking about before the season has started really don’t make a difference yet because he has not done it yet in the kind of role he’s going to be in this year,” Donovan said.
“Michael is a really great worker. I think he’s very driven, he’s very committed. But I think he’s also excited about the challenge this year because this is going to stretch him in some ways he’s not been stretched the last two years.”
Frazier in that way is a microcosm for the entire Florida team, a squad that won 30 games a year ago and did not have to face the kind of adversity that many Gators have in the past.
At least as far as Donovan is concerned, Frazier is the only returning player who is at least somewhat of a known quantity. Everyone else will be truly tested for the first time as they take starting or primary reserve roles from veterans that helped the program reach its highest point since 2007.
“They can go out there, work really, really hard and may not get the results [they want],” explained Donovan. “There was no level of consistency at all from our returning players outside of Michael Frazier. There were moments that they played exceptionally well, there were moments that they really did a great job, but there was a discipline issue on the court in terms of being reliable guys game in and game out. That is going to be a challenge.”