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February 15, 2013

Feature: Frazier's Silver Linings

* This story appeared in the March 2013 edition of Blue White Illustrated, printed and mailed to our subscribers Friday.

To order a subscription, click here.

By Nate Bauer

Tim Frazier heard the news, collapsed and cried.

Last November, just a few hours after Frazier hobbled off the court at Coliseo de Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico, team doctors informed him that an injury sustained early in the Nittany Lions' 85-60 loss to Akron was more severe than they'd initially thought. Surgery would be required, rehabilitation would ensue and the remainder of his senior season would be spent watching games from the end of the bench.

Coming off an outstanding first-team All-Big Ten campaign and a series of nationally prestigious summer camp appearances, Penn State's star point guard needed to grasp that due to a ruptured Achilles tendon in his left ankle, his season was over.

Left to a 22-year old with aspirations for his senior season and a potential career in the NBA, the weight of the news felt considerably heavier.

"Mom, I don't know what to do," Frazier said through tears to his mother, Janice, at the team hotel. "My life is over. This is the only thing I know."

Expecting some sympathy, an acknowledgement of his devastation at the news, Frazier got the opposite.

"What are you talking about?!" Janice replied. "You have everything going for you right now. You have nothing to worry about."

Determined to lift her son's spirits, Janice urged Tim to find the positives, to get back up and keep going. If you have a Plan A and it takes a detour, move on to Plan B and figure the next step out, she told him. "He's more than just basketball. He has a whole life ahead of him that is not just all about basketball. He's a young man that is still developing, and there will be other obstacles and other challenges in his life.

"I felt really bad, but sometimes not everyone can be sad and show that emotion. Somebody has to able to pull it together and reassure everyone that it can be fixed. He was very sad and down for those moments, but we talked and, I don't know that it was what he wanted to hear, but after he heard it he felt it in his heart that he could be better. He could be stronger. He could do more. He felt courage in his heart to move beyond that."

Said Frazier, "I think at that moment right there, it kind of snapped me out of it. It just seems silly. I'm sitting there talking about, 'My life is over with.' And, I've got everything going. I'm at a great institution. I've got great family, great friends, and my career is not over. God blessed me, and that gives me the chance to come back and play another year under Coach Chambers, another year with the team, another year of college, another education. It's kind of like a blessing in disguise.

"Ever since then, that's when the positive energy has really just been staying with me"

Four months later, Tim can acknowledge the preposterousness of his initial reaction.

Thriving through his rehabilitation, Frazier now walks normally with the aid of a specialized arch in his sneaker, past the weeks of immobilization, pool therapy, motorized scooter, crutches and a walking boot. There is still more rehabilitation to do, but focusing on goals in two-week increments, Frazier is speeding toward a recovery that will mean being able to play and practice through the summer and into an almost-assured fifth year at Penn State.

His life is not, in fact, over.

That's not to say Frazier's circumstances since the injury have been easy, however.

Maintaining a positive attitude has been a challenge for anyone associated with the program this year, though especially for Frazier, who continues to fight feelings of guilt at watching his teammates gasp and claw for wins without his presence on the hardwood.

Currently winless in the Big Ten - with a realistic chance of remaining so for the rest of the season - the Nittany Lions have struggled mightily without the man who accounted for 58 percent of the team's scoring last season. Averaging league-worsts of just 54.8 points, 35.3 percent shooting, and a 23.6 percent 3-point conversion rate per game against Big Ten opponents, Penn State's plans for a winning season were effectively destroyed by Frazier's injury.

Not being able to compete and help, he says, hurts the worst. "I can scream, I can cheer on guys, but it's just not the same as being out there and being that leader on the court."

Even so, since the injury, Chambers has vowed to keep Frazier heavily involved in the day-to-day activities and responsibilities of the team. Studying film, attending practices and games, and maintaining a crucial leadership role in the locker room, Frazier has sought ways to progress in spite of the setback, specifically as they relate to his team leadership abilities.

In fact, it's a mentality Frazier has pursued since talking to Chambers the night of his injury.

As the pair sat alone at a Starbucks near the team hotel, Chambers recalled passionately discussing adversity, overcoming challenges and the benefits and blessings they can have on a person's life.

"You talk about the problem first. You talk about the state of mind. You talk about where he is at that very moment. I don't want to discount that. That's a grieving time for a young man who has big dreams," Chambers said. "But once we got done talking about that, now it's time to talk about the positives, and let's focus on them. The positives are going to be another year of me getting to coach you, another year of you getting stronger and bigger and working on things that you can work on. You can be a better basketball player, a better human being.

"Sometimes things happen for a reason. I know it's an old cliche, but I did talk to him about the time I was stabbed and how it was a blessing. It completely changed my whole life. Twelve years later, you look at what you're doing now and in my case, I really drew from a lot of my own experiences to help and guide him, and we continue to do that for him."

Said Frazier, "We're even stronger. Just building that relationship now, I can tell he kind of feels like he went through the injury himself. It just brought us close together. It's amazing. This is a coach that truly, truly cares about me."

Along with his family, teammates and coaches, it's been a ubiquitous reality for Frazier.

Throughout the injury and his rehabilitation, humbled by his support structure and the daily life activities that can be severely complicated by injury, Frazier says he hopes to become a better person as a result of the adversity he's faced.

"I feel like this is going to make me a better person, a better man to be able to go through this type of struggle and this type of injury and be able to fight," he said. "I think it's going to help me in the long run as basketball goes and as far as what I do after basketball as a man, a husband and a father. I think everything happens for a reason and it's a blessing in disguise."

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