With the Illini: Frazier not giving up on playing

John Supinie

Less than a week after apparently breaking his right hand, Illinois senior guard Chester Frazier isn't ready yet to give up on his playing career even if coach Bruce Weber calls it "a long shot.''

It's quite possible he's a decoy when fifth-seeded Illinois (24-9) plays 12th-seeded Western Kentucky (24-8) in a NCAA Tournament South Region first-round game Thursday (8:55 p.m., CBS). Yet Frazier called it a "strong possibility'' that he would play after suffering the injury Wednesday, undergoing surgery Thursday and missing the Big Ten Tournament last weekend.

"I'm not worried about anyone else's time frame,'' said Frazier, who smacked his hand on Dominique Keller's leg while fighting for a rebound. "It's going to be my decision in the long run. I feel like this team needs me.''

Frazier stuck to the cardiovascular machines while the Illini practiced Monday. He will meet with team doctors Tuesday. If he makes the remarkable return to the court, Frazier's playing time would be "minimal'' against the guard-oriented Hilltoppers, Weber said. The Illini are investigating the possibility of Frazier wearing a padded glove or splint, but dribbling, shooting and passing would be difficult.

"If he was a shooter, it would be doubtful,'' Weber said. "He does all the other stuff. He plays with reckless abandon. He's not afraid to put his nose in there. He's not afraid of pain. We have to guard people who shoot a lot of threes. That's his specialty.

"If we need him a few minutes here or there, he just wants to be part of it. Our medical staff wouldn't do anything to damage Chester.''

Without Frazier, the Illini started 6-foot-5 senior Calvin Brock, another athletic defender who is three inches taller than Frazier and has the ability to rebound and score more points. Brock limited Michigan guard Manny Harris, a first-team all-conference pick, to nine points on 3-for-11 shooting Friday in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals and had 12 points and five rebounds in the 66-56 loss to Purdue in the semifinals.

Frazier had trouble sitting on the bench during the conference tournament, when he was normally on his feet shouting instructions at his teammates. It was an early coaching gig for a player who plans to become a coach perhaps as soon as the next loss.

"I'm kind of hoarse right now,'' Frazier said. "I get to see how coach Weber feels. I'm screaming and yelling. It's different watching the game from the bench. I hurt, but I had a lot of fun.''

BILLY BURNER: Weber hinted at playing sophomore forward Bill Cole earlier this year, and he did it once again after Cole scored a career-high nine points in 10 minutes late in the loss to Purdue.

"We've noticed that he's had success,'' Weber said. "I told him straight out, 'I'm not promising minutes. We do feel better about you.' If we're having trouble scoring, we might have to make a call on Billy Burner. That's what the kids call him because he's always burning up the nets.''

BASKETBALL RECRUITING: During a timeout before Gurnee Warren senior guard Brandon Paul made his third free throw with 4.7 seconds remaining in the Class 4A Waukegan Sectional championship Friday, Waukegan coach Ron Ashlaw hatched a simple plan.

"We didn't call a third timeout,'' Ashlaw said. "We had one in the bank. We just said, 'Let's come down and someone make a play.' The play that was made was the play of the century.''

Waukegan junior forward Jereme Richmond, an Illinois commitment, drilled a half-court jump shot from near the sideline just before the buzzer to lift Waukegan to the 71-69 victory. The game ended the prep career of Paul, who signed with Illini in November.

"It was a classic high school game,'' Ashlaw said. "It sounds cliche, but neither team deserved to lose. Great players. Great runs by each team. Superstars in the game. It was amazing stuff.''

Richmond had 31 points on his 17th birthday despite leaving school early with a fever. Paul had 27. In the Hoffman Estates Supersectional Tuesday, Waukegan (24-4) meets Glenbrook North, a team coached by Dave Weber, the brother of the Illinois coach.

IN OTHER NEWS: Illinois hosts the Big Ten gymnastics championships at Huff Hall Saturday. The meet begins at 2 p.m. . . Illinois improved to 10-2 in baseball after a three-game sweep over Akron. Illinois scored 38 runs to the Zips' 15.

John Supinie can be reached atJohnsupinie@aol.com.