Frazier brings energy, enjoys success as Illini assistant coach: 'He helps us go'

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OMAHA, Neb. — Chester Frazier got a running start from the three-point line. He leaped with arms fully extended, caught a lob pass from the other side of the basket and dunked the ball home, hanging on the rim for good measure.

This isn't a recount of Frazier's time playing for the Illini men's basketball in the late 2000s. It's from March 8. As in a couple weeks ago. The 37-year-old still has hops.

Chester's energy played out on our poster page after the win against Morehead State

"Yeah, I'm still getting above that rim," Frazier said with a smirk.

He posted a video of the dunk on social media with the caption "This is MARCH!!!" to show the current players, who often tease him about his age, that he still has some life left in his legs. Those who didn't see it in person, however, still aren't convinced.

"Those have to be Photoshopped," coach Brad Underwood said with a laugh Friday ahead of the Illini's Round of 32 game against Duquesne. "There's not a chance in hell he's doing that."

Frazier joined the Illini coaching staff in May 2021, and he quickly became a fan favorite with his energetic coaching style. He keeps it loose with the players, and he has fun.

"It's just me as a person," Frazier said. "I played the game the same way, energetic. That's kind of my role is to bring energy and keep these guys fired up."

Of course, it's easy to have fun when you're winning, and the Illini have done plenty of that in Frazier's three seasons back at his alma mater, claiming a Big Ten regular-season championship in 2022 and a conference tournament title in 2024. He said that's been his favorite part of returning to Champaign.

"I didn't reach that goal as a player, so it's been fun to be able to do it as a coach," Frazier said. "Coming out onto that State Farm Center floor in front of the home crowd and knowing we did something special. We've cut down nets two out of the three years I've been here. ... It's been good being back in the orange and blue."

Frazier's coaching goes well beyond the Xs and Os of basketball. He develops relationships with the players and helps them succeed in every facet, on or off the court. But the most notable part of his style goes back to his role of letting his positive, competitive energy spread throughout the program.

"Chester is fiery. He's a great, great competitor," Underwood said. "He gives us an emotional fire sometimes, and most every day, to be honest. He has the ability to be an everyday guy and bring it. That carries over to our team."

Frazier participates in practice, too. Much like his documented dunk, he still has enough in the tank — Frazier played a couple professional seasons in Germany after graduating from the UI in 2009 — to give his players a bit of a challenge in practice.

"He just brings that motor and brings that intensity," sophomore Ty Rodgers said. "He is someone we look up to. We've seen what he did when he played at Illinois, so he is a good role model. He just brings that energy, and he helps us go."

A former point guard for the Illini, Frazier is seventh on the program's all-time assist leaderboard and helped his teams to three NCAA tournament appearances. Like recent Illinois teams, he didn't have the most postseason success, finishing his college career with a 1-3 March Madness record.

He saw more success in the tournament as a coach before returning to Champaign, however. During a stint as a Kansas State assistant, he coached in the Elite Eight in 2018. All of Frazier's experience has helped prepare the Illini for what they're hoping is a deep postseason run this season.

"Any time you've got somebody with experience who's been here before, they can share their wisdom as we go through this process," graduate point guard Marcus Domask said. "We'll be listening to him with open ears and soaking everything in."

Frazier has been a big reason why Illinois fans are so high on this year's team. The players are the ones who provide the talent, but Frazier is always one of the first ones to share their success with the masses on social media.

And he posts a lot. Any little thing about the Illini, from final scores to record-setting performances to behind-the-scenes celebrations, Frazier makes sure the fans are engaged and feel as close to the team as possible.

Lately, along with advertising the Illini's opening-round NCAA tournament win over Morehead State, Frazier has been encouraging fans on X to vote for the eighth-seeded Illinois managers in the Manager Games bracket.

Frazier never made the Sweet 16 as a player — Illinois hasn't since its 2005 national runner-up season — but he's made it there and beyond as a coach. He knows the opportunity in front of his players, and he'll be bringing the energy from pregame warm-ups to, hopefully, postgame celebrations.

"It's just taking it one game at a time and being in the moment, having fun and enjoying it," Frazier said. "It's a blessed opportunity, and you only get to do it once. Enjoy it, and play every game like it's your last, because it could be."