Tom Pecora and Branden Frazier will forever be linked to Fordham history, regardless of how long it takes to turn Ram program around. (Photo courtesy of the Dayton Daily News)
By JOSH ADAMS
Special To A Daly Dose Of Hoops
Branden Frazier’s last shot ever at Rose Hill Gymnasium was a three-pointer that bounced off the backboard, glanced the rim and had no shot of going in as the clock struck zero on his senior day. Frazier momentarily put one knee on the floor, stared at the ground, then quickly got up to join his teammates in the handshake line. His team just suffered their eighth straight loss heading into the Atlantic 10 Tournament this coming week. Before the expansion of the tournament, this shot, this desperate heave would have been Branden Frazier’s last shot ever in a Fordham uniform. His whole career, his legacy, now comes down to one game. If he can lead his team to just one postseason win next week, Frazier has a chance to change what will surely be thought of as a down time for the Fordham program during his and coach Tom Pecora’s first four years in the Bronx. It will send a message to the long suffering fan base of Fordham fans that hope is on the horizon.
The careers of Tom Pecora and Branden Frazier will be forever intertwined, as Frazier followed Pecora from Hofstra to Fordham four years ago. Both the coach and player are New Yorkers born and raised, and as they arrived in the Bronx, hope sprang eternal that the Rams would be led out of the college basketball wilderness by a local coach and a local player. Frazier’s talent was apparent from his freshman year, but his game acumen was lacking. As Pecora sought to build relationships with the players left by his predecessor at Fordham. it was clear from Frazier’s freshman year on that Pecora would try to groom Frazier to be the team leader and the catalyst of what kind of playing philosophy he was going to bring to the table after several successful years at Hofstra.
As Frazier turned into a full-time starter his sophomore year, the team improved moderately, but was still underperforming, as Pecora and the Rams struggled to a 3-13 record in the Atlantic 10. While Frazier wasn’t the only offensive option of the team, he held his own, averaging 11.7 points per game, good for second on the team. In Frazier’s junior year, he registered his 1,000th point in a Fordham uniform. His scoring improved to 14.2 points per game, but the team didn’t make any progress record-wise in the A-10, going 3-13 in the conference again.
It looked like the tide might be turning a little bit going into Frazier’s senior year. The Rams scored a top-notch recruit in Jon Severe, and there was optimism that Fordham might turn a corner in 2013-14. Alas, while Frazier averaged a career best 18.0 points per game, the Rams Atlantic 10 record dipped to 2-14. The brunt of the blame for the season fell on Frazier’s shoulders. Pecora admitted that he rode Frazier hard in practice, and frequently called on him to provide more leadership during the season. While this was fair or not, Frazier had some stellar games against Syracuse, (33 points) Richmond, (29 points) and his final home game against George Washington. (28 points)
“It was kind of emotional when I walked out for senior day,” said Frazier after the game. “Being at Fordham, being around people who supported me, was the best decision I ever made.” While Frazier’s time at Fordham has not been by definition successful in a win-loss sense, there was a genuine sense of satisfaction from Frazier after his last game on campus. As Frazier stated to the press, “as things get better, as Coach makes things better around here, I’ll know that I was a part of it.” Pecora said of Frazier, “he is the foundation of what we're trying to get done around here.”
Branden Frazier now has the one game, the one opportunity in the Atlantic 10 Tournament to get Fordham its first postseason win under the coach he put his trust into and followed from Hofstra. If the basketball gods see fit, they’ll give Frazier and Pecora one moment in the sun before they part company as coach and player. Four years goes quickly for anyone in college, and the legacy that Frazier can leave is the success of the players he helped recruit and mentored. The kid from Brooklyn leaves with a Fordham degree in hand, and any success that Tom Pecora and the team has in the next four years can be attributed to the player who believed in his system like he did, and left school a better player and a better leader than when he came in.
Josh Adams is the founder and managing editor of College Hoops Digest, a website covering college basketball across the nation. Follow Josh on Twitter @NCAAhoopsdigest.