Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Most Improved Channing Frye

KOBE was here. T-Mac was here. Gilbert Arenas was here.

We all know Manila is now a favorite destination of NBA players to conduct basketball clinics, promote their new shoes and play one or two goodwill games. Back in 2006, Channing Frye, a lanky center who was only in his sophomore year in the league, was in town along with already rising star Andre Iguodala for a promotional tour dubbed as NBA Madness 06.

Me and my good friend Lawrence Casiraya were assigned to feature both players for the Manila Bulletin. Although we got to interview both, Lawrence asked me if he could write about Iguodala so I ended up with the less heralded Frye, who was actually a standout from the University of Arizona during his college days. Drafted by, and at the time, still playing for the hard luck New York Knicks, Frye was then its starting center and not a few souls predicted him to be a rising star himself. Although initially compared to Marcus Camby, who had a particularly stellar stint with the Knicks, his perimeter game is actually more reminiscent of Ralph Sampson's, a player considered to be ahead of his time.

But injuries and lack of defensive skills prevented Frye from immediately realizing his own potential as his production dropped with every succeeding season following his rookie year. After two seasons with the Knicks, he was traded to the Portland Trailblazers where his stats continued to decline, I was about to write him off to a journeyman career (and a very short one at that) when he signed up with the Phoenix Suns, his hometown team.

That' s when he started to make noises during the pre-season with his winning play. Now, just three games into the season, the Suns' starting center is already averaging a career high 19 points per game and made six three-point shots in two consecutive games. If he stays healthy and keeps up this pace throughout the season, he should be a strong contender for the Most Improved Player award on what could also be his breakout year.

His finesse game should remind Suns fans of the well-loved Boris Diaw rather than the failed experiment that was Shaquille O' Neal. Well, what Channing Frye reminded me of is to post this slightly revised version of that 2006 article that I wrote:


FOR the last two years, wearing a suit during game time before donning and taking off your playing uniform is now a strictly implemented NBA dress code. While there are players who expressed their displeasure over their inability to wear trendy hip-hop get-ups and matching bling-blings, the dress code was never an issue for New York Knick Channing Frye.

“The Knicks have a stricter dress code than other teams,” he reveals. “We’re required to wear them on the team plane and we’re required to wear them 82 games a year.”

Not that it’s ever a problem even for a lanky center who stands 6 feet 11, weighs 248 pounds and has one of the most expansive wingspans in recent NBA history. “I’m a real laid-back kind of guy so I’m very comfortable wearing suits,” Frye says. “I’m just myself and really don’t care about fashion trends. Besides, the ladies love a man who wears a good suit.”

Well, Frye who was recently in town for the annual NBA Madness 06 tour, does look like a guy who wears his suits well just as he looks very comfortable wearing his number 7 Knick jersey on the court. As a rookie, the former All-American and Arizona Player of the Year averaged an impressive 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 24.2 minutes a game.

But even with some equally exciting young talent around like Nate Robinson, Jamal Crawford and Eddie Curry, All-Star veterans like Stephon Marbury and Steve Franchise plus a cerebral coach who recently won a championship ring with the Detroit Pistons, the Knicks, touted to make a big bang last season only managed a mere whimper after wining only a little more than 20 games and again failed to make the playoffs.

“It was hard getting used to all the losing,” he admits. “But it was always business to me as I try to give it my 110 percent. But it’s time to move on, I’m glad we’re starting over and doing the right thing.”

The “right thing” that Frye is talking about is of course, the recent firing of coach Larry Brown, who as good as he is on paper, failed to take the Knicks into the promised land—not even anywhere close to the road to NBA gold. And Frye, who mostly came off the bench as a back-up to the fading Antonio Davis (who has since faded away) was among the young players who expressed their disdain over the way they were utilized by Brown.

“I’m from Arizona and I grew up watching the Phoenix Suns and rooting for the home team but it’s definitely an honor to play for the New York Knicks and I’m glad they drafted me,” he enthuses. “Now that I’m here, I’m giving it everything I got. I’ve set goals for myself this coming season. I have to be mentally tough, take games as they come, don’t get caught up in the media and spend a lot of time in the gym.”

Frye got to display some of the form that made him pick number 8 in the NBA First Round Draft of 2005 (taken way ahead of now All-Star Danny Granger of the Indiana Pacers) in two instances during NBA Madness 06. In the basketball clinic that he and Philadelphia 76er Andre Iguodala conducted for the Special Olympic Philippines and the Bright Child Program of the Council for the Welfare of Children, Frye provided the young representatives of the two organizations a ringside experience of the so-called “NBA Magic.”

In the wildly anticipated Celebrity Jam, Frye and Iguodala both took local celebrities like Richard Gomez, Richard Gutierrez, Wendell Ramos, Antonio Aquitania and Anjo Yllana to school with a dazzling display of flashy moves and slam dunk prowess that were nothing short of awe-inspiring. His play in particular has drawn a lot of comparisons to Marcus Camby, who was a fan favorite at New York before he was traded to Denver a few years back.

“Marcus Camby is a great player and I know the fans loved him when he was here,” he says. “It’s nice to be compared to him but I’m a little taller and I’m a little longer. I’d like to make a name for myself while I’m here in the NBA and right now, I see myself as a student of the game and will always work hard to achieve my goals.” As for his own NBA heroes, he cites Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant as the ones he look up the most.

Off-court, Frye is indeed the unassuming, laid-back kind of guy that he describes himself to be. When not playing basketball, he just loves to read books, listen to music and go fishing in Wyoming. Yes, he also plays videogames, too and like Iguodala loves to play Pingpong in his Xbox 360 as well as frag everything that moves in Halo 2.

But just like Andre Iguodala, Channing Frye also doesn’t play NBA videogames at all. “You know, I should be better than what those games make me out to be,” he smilingly complains. “I shouldn’t be missing shots.”

Now watch Channing Frye in top form in a recent game against the Minnesota Timberwolves:

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