August 21, 2016.
That’s the day Trent Frazier committed to Illinois.
The world looked a lot different back then. Barack Obama was still president. Lovie Smith had yet to coach a game at Illinois. Peyton Manning had just won a Super Bowl.
A lot has changed in five years, but one thing that hasn’t is Trent Frazier’s commitment to Illinois basketball. Trent could have decommitted when Brad Underwood replaced John Groce — the coach who recruited him — but he stayed. He could have transferred in search of greener pastures when Ayo Dosunmu’s arrival bit a chunk out of his role, but he stayed. He could have walked away from college basketball entirely after giving four years to Illinois, but he stayed.
Trent Frazier never owed anything to Illinois basketball, but he’s given four years (and counting) to the program anyway. And he helped bring Illinois basketball back along the way.
I like to talk about a player’s strengths and weaknesses when analyzing his on-court contributions, but that doesn’t feel quite right for Trent. In his role (an admittedly large caveat), Trent doesn’t really have any weaknesses. And his role is invaluable: shoot threes, be the secondary ball-handler and run the point when Andre Curbelo is on the bench, and lock up the opponent’s best guard.
Frazier’s not an elite shooter, but he’s made 35.8% of his three-point attempts in his career, and that’s about all you can ask for in a secondary option. His real shooting value comes in that he’s relatively efficient from three and he can shoot in volume. Trent has made about 2 threes per game over his four years at Illinois, and his 247 three-point field goals are fourth all-time among Illini.
When Trent’s not shooting, he will be tasked with initiating the offense when Curbelo needs a breather. He’s not elite in this role either, but again, he doesn’t need to be elite to be valuable. Despite frequently having the ball in his hands, Frazier has averaged just 1.2 turnovers per game over the past two seasons. He may not rack up the assists, but he provides value in what he doesn’t do, namely, turn the ball over.
Trent’s calling card, though, is his defense. When he first came to Illinois he was a defensive liability, but Frazier has developed into an absolute menace for opposing guards. He earned Big Ten All-Defensive Team Honors last season, and Brad Underwood went as far as to call him “the best defensive player in the country.” His impact on defense simply can’t be overstated.
And his impact on Illinois basketball over the last four years can’t be overstated. The upset over Michigan State in 2019 that sent shockwaves throughout college basketball, the seven-game winning streak in 2020 that officially put Illinois basketball back on the map, the culmination of a years-long rebuild in the Big Ten Tournament Championship in 2021 — none of it happens without Trent Frazier.
“The ultimate Illini,” as Brad Underwood likes to call him, is back for one more year to cement his legacy, but I want to be abundantly clear — Trent Frazier is already an Illini legend. It’s time to enjoy his last dance.