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March 29, 2013While 16 teams were preparing for this weekend's round of NCAA Tournament games to advance to the Final Four in Atlanta next week, Penn State senior point guard Tim Frazier was celebrating an entirely different type of accomplishment.
Specifically, being able to run for the first time since he ruptured his Achilles tendon on Nov. 18 in Puerto Rico.
No longer needing the assistance of an AlterG anti-gravity treadmill, Frazier's long road of two-week incremental improvements are starting to take a more definitive shape.
"It's a huge milestone that I've been looking forward to for a long time and to be able to achieve that only makes me look that much more forward to the next couple of weeks," Frazier said this week. "I was just excited and jittery to move my feet a little bit but it did feel weird when I got off (the AlterG). I've been calling it the space machine for the last four or five weeks because, when you stand off it, it's really like you've been walking on the moon and now you're stepping back on the earth and realizing that you're back on the ground."
Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, Frazier has been grounded for nearly 19 weeks now, through nearly the entire course of a disappointing season that included an excruciating 14-game losing streak.
Junior guard Jermaine Marshall, coming off a breakout season in which he finished sixth in the Big Ten in scoring with 15.3 points per game, acknowledged just how significant Frazier's return will be for everyone.
"Just to get him back I think is a big step," Marshall said. "I think we missed him. I'm not trying to make any excuses, but he's a great player. Just going back to our natural positions, it opens a lot of things up having Tim back and a great point guard and me and D.J. get to go back to our natural positions. Hopefully we can do some great things."
Against a brutal schedule that included 11 opponents that reached the 64-team field of the NCAA Tournament, the Nittany Lions actually did make some under-the-radar strides through the course of the season.
In D.J. Newbill's first season of action with the Nittany Lions, he finished with 16.3 points and 4.0 assists per game. Playing out of position at point for nearly the entire year, Newbill's assists were the fifth-best in the Big Ten and, with no other real options for Chambers at the position, he finished second in the conference for minutes played with 36.5 per game.
Combined with Marshall's points, the Nittany Lions return 81 percent of their scoring, 82 percent of their rebounding and 84 percent of their assists. Throw Frazier's points and assists back into the mix and Chambers has at least three scoring capable guards on the roster (if not four when Pitt transfer John Johnson becomes eligible to play in December).
According to Chambers, the development of other playmakers and scorers this season will likely be of great benefit to Frazier when he finally returns.
"I think it's going to make his life a little bit easier, but I don't think you're going to see 18 (points per game). I think you're going to see maybe 15 and maybe eight (assists)," Chambers said. "The thing that really is going to be important for us is sharing the ball next year. We're really going to have to move the ball side to side. Everybody's gotta get touches and make sure we spread it out.
"It would be nice to have three or four guys in double figures. That's really well balanced. Now you're not just focused on Tim Frazier or D.J. or Jermaine. Now you've got four guys that can get you 10. That would be huge for us because we were searching for a No. 3 all year long and we finally got it in February."
Frazier says he's up for the challenges or changes, whatever they may be.
"You get new players (next year) and these guys have played well this year and have progressed as well. So, whatever the coach needs me to do and whatever the team needs from me to help us win, then I'll do that," he said.
Having transformed from a pass-first spot-duty point guard his true freshman season, to a true facilitator for Talor Battle as a sophomore, to a breakout scorer and assist-machine his junior year, Frazier acknowledged that every season brings a new role and with it, he's ready to adapt.
"I think that will be a great thing for us to have three or four scorers on the court at the same time," Frazier said. "If one of us has an off night, the next one steps up, and you even have a third option for the next guy to step up, so it will be great. I've been in the role where two to three years ago, when my role was to get others facilitated and get them the ball, I feel like it won't be an issue at all."