Few within the Penn State men's basketball program will argue that fifth-year senior point guard Tim Frazier was quite himself this season.
How could he be?
Less than a year from suffering a devastating ruptured Achilles that erased his true senior year, Frazier found himself entering the season as an unknown quantity instead of the first team All-Big Ten selection he'd enjoyed following his third year in the program. The ongoing recovery from the injury, the new teammates around him, nearly all of it was different from the situation he'd become familiar with at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season.
Understanding the peril of playing without Frazier, having slogged through a hopeless 10-21 season without the Houston native, head coach Patrick Chambers made every accommodation to bring his point man back up to speed. Needing every bit of an August European tour, the nonconference schedule and even the Big Ten slate to get back to good, Frazier acknowledged the challenges the season presented him.
"All through the summer I was obviously still trying to get back to 100 percent as far as rehab. Obviously I couldn't do different things in the summer as far as running and jumping," he said. "The European tour was great for me, getting to play against all the guys. It was a relearning process.
"You kind of have to learn and teach yourself every game because the Big Ten was different from the nonconference and the nonconference was different from the European tour."
Frazier's numbers reflected as much.
Though his 182 assists were good for third most in Penn State history and easily led the Big Ten in the category, his points per game fell from 18.2 during the nonconference schedule down to 13.6 in the conference. Not coincidentally, his shooting percentage also fell, dropping from 48.4 on field goals down to 40.8 in the Big Ten.
Citing the determination of opponents to take away Frazier as a scoring option, Chambers noted that some of the great opportunities that might have existed earlier in the season simply weren't there as the year progressed.
"I think teams try to take him away," Chambers said. "He's gotta give the ball up. So I don't think he got the great opportunities that we were all hoping he would get.
"So I'm not going to say it was anything - let's give credit to the defenses, let's give credit to the other guards on the other teams to really try to slow him down. I think they did a good job with that."
Through the setbacks and struggles, though, Frazier's senior season was a story of appreciation more than anything else.
From Chambers to the teammates that benefitted from Frazier's presence and, most of all, Frazier himself, the true meaning of health and the ability to play the game meant more than any statistical impact felt through the course of the season.
Said Frazier, "Walking, waking up in the morning, walking, playing the game you love, playing with the teammates you have, being able to learn from the coaches and being able to learn from teachers and be a part of a huge student body like Penn State. You try to cherish all of those moment, not just because I was hurt, which played a huge part, but this would be my last year no matter what. There is no coming back, there is no putting on a uniform, there is no living in the apartments anymore. This is my last go-round."
"He meant a whole lot," redshirt junior guard D.J. Newbill followed. "I can't even put it into words. Just him as a person, not even basketball-wise, just Tim Frazier as a person, as a brother, as a teammate, what he has been to me and this program over the past three years has been incredible. I hope that when I leave here I leave the same legacy that he has."
For Frazier's part, that legacy was far from guaranteed upon his arrival from Strake Jesuit College Prepatory, 20 minutes west of downtown Houston.
Enrolling as a 145 pound point guard out of a state not known for being a recruiting hotbed, Frazier admitted his initial role under former head coach Ed DeChellis was simply to facilitate scorers and play excellent defense. Surrounded by Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks, Andrew Jones and David Jackson, the role suited Frazier's abilities until a noticeable midseason shooting improvement his sophomore year.
Breaking out with a career-high 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists in the Nittany Lions' semifinal win against Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament, Frazier's confidence blossomed as he helped propel the program to its first NCAA Tournament berth in more than a decade.
"It was kind of a coming out party because my role on that team throughout the entire year was to get guys open and play tough defense," Frazier said. "Get guys open, play tough defense and, I don't know if the light switched or I was just so hot that game and it kind of just switched and say, 'Hey, he can score.'
"I think that just transferred forward and I think everything fell into place. Things happened over that summer… and it changed itself into the player that I am today as far as that junior year, having to score a lot as well as do a lot of things. From the injury year, going through the struggle that put me in setting me back into place. I was up high and that kind of brought me right back down. This final year, just going through the ups and downs that we did, the big wins and the tough losses, it all just settled you down, kept you right, even though I think it all prepared me for what's ahead in the future."
For the first time in Frazier's recent history, that future is now uncertain.
Invited to participate in the upcoming Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, an annual showcase for the top senior college basketball players set to embark on potential professional hoops careers, Frazier is hoping to continue to improve as he looks to prolong his playing career.
Having laid "an incredible foundation" of hard work that Chambers said will continue to help the program into the future, the feeling for Frazier is now one of nervousness, excitement and bittersweet emotion as his life's transition quickly approaches.
"I guess you could say a little bit of everything. You pack your things up and it's kind of sad, bittersweet that your career is finally over," Frazier said. "You watch the NCAA Tournament and see Wisconsin make it to the Final Four. I'm happy for them but it's just like, 'Man, that could have been us.'
"I'm happy to start this new journey, but at the same time, if I had another year at Penn State I would take it in a heartbeat."