By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Staff Writer
January 28, 2022
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Brad Underwood has seen the latest watch list of players for the 2022 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award and he’s very angry.
The list of 15 players presented by the The Naismith Award through the Atlanta Tipoff Club on Thursday evening does not include Illinois fifth-year senior guard Trent Frazier. Before he took any questions or even addressed his team’s opponent for a Saturday afternoon contest at Northwestern, the Illini fifth-year head coach used his Zoom video media conference on Friday afternoon to address his aggravation over Frazier’s lack of inclusion in the honor.
“Obviously nobody has a clue what defense is that he’s not on that award list,” Underwood said of Frazier’s exclusion Friday. “Obviously they don’t talk to college coaches [and] more than likely our style of play probably doesn’t allow him to get as many steals but they’re looking at all the wrong numbers. They don’t look at the opponent’s numbers on who he guards when he plays them because usually it’s a night off for that person. Really, really disappointed. He’s the best defender in the country.”
The watch list for the award given to the nation’s best defensive player in college basketball included only one player from the Big Ten Conference (Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis) but included five perimeter players (Posh Alexander of St. John’s, Kennedy Chandler of Tennessee, Jacob Gilyard of Richmond, Tyrese Hunter of Iowa State, Kevin McCullar of Texas Tech).
“When I can go to bat for one of our guys on something I know because he deserves to be there and (his exclusion) is wrong, I’m going to do that,” Underwood said. “He takes more pride in what he does on that end than he does on the (offensive) end. So, I got to fight for him. And that’s wrong. It’s a numbers driven deal and I get it but it’s wrong.”
Frazier leads No. 24 Illinois (14-5, 7-2 in Big Ten) in minutes played, assists and steals for a team tied for the conference lead heading into this weekend’s matchup at Northwestern (3:30 p.m. CST, BTN).
Following the 56-55 win over No. 10 Michigan State Tuesday where Frazier held highly-acclaimed freshman Max Christie to just two points on 1 of 8 shooting in 31 minutes, Spartans head coach Tom Izzo praised Frazier’s effort and execution on both ends of the floor.
“I think Trent Frazier, you see the difference between a 23-year-old and an 18-year-old. I’ve liked Trent Frazier since he was a freshman. He’s a competitive S.O.B. He comes at you,” Izzo said. “I thought we did a decent job on him, but he does a decent job defensively for a guy who’s not real big. He plays hard as hell and he plays physical and he gets after it.”
Underwood has been campaigning for the better part of three seasons to get Frazier some recognition for the results he’s produced at Illinois on the defensive end of the floor. Frazier, who currently ranks seventh all-time in school history in steals, was honored on the Big Ten’s All-Defensive team last season and those close to the program will happily brag about the 6-foot-2 guard’s responsibility to defend every opponent’s best perimeter scoring option.
Underwood did acknowledge that Illinois going to a less aggressive defensive strategy before the start of the 2019-20 season has lowered the steals and blocks numbers of his players and therefore, may be contributing to less recognition when it comes to individual defensive awards.
The Illini coach went so far on Friday afternoon to publicly invalidate the award from now on in the eyes of the basketball community after the exclusion of Frazier from its finalist watch list. Unlike the National Player of the Year award, which has been given out since 1969, the defensive award has only been award over the last four years.
“I want it out there publicly that it’s not a defensive player of the year award if Trent Frazier isn’t on it,” Underwood said. “I’m ticked off. I’m frustrated. I’d like to know who the committee is that puts that nonsense together but it’s obviously not intelligent people who are uninformed about styles of play and how defense truly impacts winning.”
According to the public information provided by the Naismith Award, the voting panel for the National Player of the Year award is among “the leading basketball coaches, administrators and journalists” which narrows the group down to finalists based on player performance throughout the season. However, the Naismith Award organization doesn’t specify if that same criteria is used for its remaining national awards.
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