Even though there are technically two home games left on Penn State's 2014 schedule, when the team hosts Ohio State on Thursday night, it will celebrate Senior Night. Tim Frazier and walk-on Zach Cooper will be playing their second-to-last home games with the Lions (barring postseason qualification), with Frazier finishing up his fifth year with the program.
As Penn State's most important player for the past three seasons, it will be tough to see the diminutive guard finally move on. The taste we got of a world without Frazier last season makes his departure a bitter pill to swallow, even if the rest of the team is now much better prepared to play without him than it was in 2013.
Before he was the one good player at Penn State in 2012, Frazier burst onto the scene during the exhilarating NCAA Tournament run of 2011. With Talor Battle and Jeff Brooks controlling much of the offense that year, Frazier only scored in double figures five times during the regular season. However, with a bid to the dance on the line in the Big Ten Tournament, he had what was the best game of his career with 22 points, eight rebounds, and six assists in a 61-48 win over Michigan State.
As incredible as that performance was, no one really thought it would translate into star power for Frazier, but in 2012 he emerged was one of the top players in the Big Ten. Battling hard every night to keep a putrid Penn State squad afloat, Frazier scored 18.8 points per game while finishing second in the nation in assist rate and 10th in usage rate. The Lions won just four conference games that season, but without Frazier's efforts (including a near triple-double against Nebraska), they may very well have lost all of them.
In 2013, Frazier was lost for most of the season when he tore his Achilles tendon during an early season tournament in Puerto Rico. Fortunately, the next budding Penn State basketball star D.J. Newbill was able to pick up enough of the slack to avoid a winless Big Ten slate. The combined powers of Newbill and Jermaine Marshall led to a thrilling late season upset of No. 4 Michigan that will go down as one of the greatest upsets in Penn State basketball history (if only Mike Walker's last-second heave would have found net against Greg Oden and Ohio State...).
That brings us to this season, in which Frazier isn't putting up gaudy scoring totals like he did in 2012, but he's still having his best season as a collegiate player. Thanks to Newbill taking over as the team's leading scorer, Frazier has only had to score 16.0 points per game, but he's doing so quite efficiently with a career-best field goal percentage of 44.5 and just 2.8 turnovers per game (lowest since 2011).
It only looks like Frazier has five or maybe six games left in his Penn State career, and his legacy appears to be that of someone who was the best player on a couple of lousy teams. That's why I'm taking the opportunity to thank Frazier for what he's done at Penn State. If this program goes where the fans want it to go, Frazier's accomplishments will be surpassed by many great Nittany Lion players, but fans of this era will always remember Frazier cutting to the basket in traffic for a quick two points, dashing forward on the fast break with ruthless speed and efficiency, and even pulling up for an unexpected jumper here or there.
Frazier came all the way from Texas to play for this Penn State team that had little in the way of accomplishments when he got here. While one NCAA Tournament appearance wasn't enough to change the direction of the program, Frazier made the team a lot more fun to watch even as the Lions struggled against superior opposition. When Marshall transferred to Arizona State after last season, it showed what a less loyal version of Frazier could have done, but instead he stuck with the program to give Penn State fans hope of a winning season in 2014.
Whether the Lions finish above .500 or not is still up in the air, but something that will only increase over the next couple of weeks is how fond I am of Tim Frazier and how thankful I am that I got to watch him play basketball for my alma mater.