Over the last four months, Chester Frazier has gone from a video coordinator on the Fighting Illini coaching staff to one of the best defenders in Germany's Beko BBL with s.Oliver Baskets in Wurzburg.
The three-inch scar on the back of Chester Frazier's right hand stands out vividly as he autographs a team poster for a young fan after another win in Wurzburg.
The mark serves as a constant reminder of how tough it was to leave his playing days behind at Illinois.
During Frazier's senior year for the Fighting Illini, he fractured his hand during a March practice and was forced to miss the 2009 Big Ten Tournament and close out his college career on unfortunate terms, but at least he had plans in place for after school. Ever since his sophomore year, the 6-foot-2 point guard who followed in the backcourt footsteps of Deron Williams and Dee Brown for the Blue and Orange knew that someday he wanted to coach basketball.
That opportunity came after Frazier graduated when he was offered the position of a student-assistant coach on Bruce Weber's staff. But something happened on the way to becoming "Coach Frazier."
Never a flashy or prolific scorer, the former 2006 and 2008 All-Big Ten Defensive Team selection took his game overseas to play professionally in Germany's Beko BBL with BG Goettingen, where Frazier helped lead the team to a EuroChallange championship in 2010. Still, the call to become a coach was one that Frazier longed to answer and in August 2010, Frazier officially accepted the position of a graduate assistant and video coordinator at Illinois.
"I had other offers to play overseas or even stay in Germany, but I was dealing with some injuries and wasn't ready for the season so I jumped at the chance to coach," Frazier told Ridiculous Upside.
"As a video coordinator, I was editing tape and counseling players. The job was doing a little bit of everything. The counseling part of the position came naturally for me. Those guys are like my little brothers."
Under Weber, Frazier served as a conduit between the coaching staff and the team, spent countless hours in the editing room breaking down film and tutored players. Although NCAA regulations prevented him from officially "coaching" on the floor during practices, the experience Frazier gained was invaluable.
Yet the transition from the floor to the sidelines still left Frazier with a competitive void he struggled to fill.
"I missed playing basketball. I missed the fight. The closest I could get to 5-on-5 was playing against 40-year old guys and playing noon ball. And I could feel it too -- I got out of shape and gained about 20 pounds."
During his year and a half on the staff at Illinois, Frazier stayed in touch regularly with his former head coach at Goettingen, John Patrick (who played in Stanford 1987-91), and when Patrick jumped to coach the upstart s.Oliver Baskets in Wurzburg at the start of this season, those conversations turned into more of a friendly recruiting tactic.
"I told him every day he was gone that he needs to get his butt over here," said Patrick, laughing.
Patrick wanted Frazier in his backcourt to help establish a new culture -- a new culture on a team that would benefit from the toughness and leadership the Baltimore native embodies between and outside the lines.
The decision wasn't easy but it was one Frazier knew he needed to make.
This past November while the Fighting Illini were in Cancun, Mexico playing in the Cancun Challenge, Frazier decided to leave his position on Weber's staff and sign with Wurzburg for the remainder of the season.
"I loved being a coach, but this opportunity came up and I took it. I think it's easier for me this time around. I'm not a rookie anymore. I'm just excited about the opportunity to compete again," continued Frazier, who is averaging 8.7 points per game and ranks second on the team in steals with 1.4 in 15 games played.
"That was the hardest part -- not competing, especially knowing I could still compete and sometimes when you are not completely happy with your situation you have to step up and change it. That's what really bothered me -- not being able to compete on a daily basis.
"This time is more special. I sat out a year and I wanted to prove to myself that I could play my game again. I was a little hesitant to come back overseas to be honest with you. My fiancé, Sarah, is still at home, so that is hard, and then leaving the guys at Illinois was tough too. There were a lot of factors played into the decision to return, but ultimately I made the right decision."
Frazier's been a defensive lift for Wurzburg, a team that prides themselves on hustle and currently sit fifth (15-9) in the BBL standings.
"We really needed a guy with his leadership ability and energy on the court. He's the definition of intensity," said Patrick.
"I mean, he's pissed if he's playing one-on-one after a three-hour practice and someone hits a lucky shot. He's pissed. That's Chester. He may not have great stats, but he doesn't care. He just wants to win."
For Frazier, the experience he gained in his coaching role at Illinois has been beneficial to resuming his playing career in Germany. He puts it to use every time he takes the floor for Wurzburg, or even while catching a breather on the bench.
"I got to see the game from a different vantage point when I was coaching, so in that aspect the game has slowed down for me. I see the game differently now. You get the chance to make different reads, whereas before I was playing off of instinct and just attacking. But I had the chance to really study the game and know where to go."
So where does Frazier go from here?
He's confident s.Oliver Baskets' attacking style will allow Wurzburg to make a strong postseason run against the likes of Bamberg, Ulm and Alba Berlin. He's also getting married later this spring and will decide this summer whether to return for another season in Germany.
If not, the back-up plan is forever in place: Coach Frazier.
"Oh, I'm going to coach for sure when I am done playing," Frazier said with a smile.
"I know that's what I want to do."