ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — It was 6:45 a.m. on a Saturday, more than four hours before tip-off against Mississippi, and Florida guard Michael Frazier II was in the visiting arena putting up shots.
About 400 of them.
By the time Frazier was done, he was soaked in sweat and reeking from the hour-long workout.
For him, this was the look, feel and smell of success.
Frazier’s sharp-shooting prowess comes at a price. He’s one of coach Billy Donovan’s hardest workers, spending countless extra hours in the gym, and it’s paying off big time for the top-seeded Gators (36-2).
Frazier set the school record for 3-pointers in a season with 117 and a Southeastern Conference record with 11 treys against South Carolina last month. And while Florida’s four seniors are getting significant attention at the Final Four, Frazier is the one to watch against Connecticut on Saturday night.
“He’s an outstanding weapon,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said Thursday. “He creates so many spacing challenges for us on the defensive end where we have to guard him. … We’re going to have to make sure we communicate and talk at a (high level), so we can make sure he gets covered. Then also in transition we have to get back and locate and identify where Michael Frazier is at all times.”
Many teams have tried and failed.
Frazier is shooting 45 percent from behind the arc. The sophomore from Tampa, Fla., was a staggering 10 of 15 from 3-point range in the SEC tournament, including four treys that helped beat Kentucky in the title game.
The NCAA tournament hasn’t been quite as smooth.
Albany used a triangle-and-two defense to limit Frazier’s looks in the opening round and Dayton had similar success guarding him in the South Region final. Frazier had several 3s rim out against Pittsburgh and finished 2 of 9 from beyond the arc. His one solid tournament game came against UCLA, which left him wide open early and often.
Frazier has made 10 of 26 shots from 3-point range in four tournament games, creating some speculation he needs to find his stroke for the Gators to win it all.
“Would I like Michael Frazier to knock down five, six, seven 3s a game? That would be great for us,” Donovan said. “But sometimes the defense has something to do with that. If they are taking him away, we need to understand what else is open.
“Sometimes that is the greatest sign of respect for a player is when they try to take you out of the game. Some teams tried to do that to Michael, but we’ve still been able to move on and advance by doing different things.”
True, but there’s no question that Frazier can change games with just a few of his smooth strokes.
Donovan calls him one of the purest shooters he’s been around, ranking him right up there with Lee Humphrey (2004-07). Humphrey holds the NCAA tournament record with 47 3s, hitting clutch shots that helped the Gators win back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007.
Frazier is just as dangerous.
He and Humphrey have two of the most consistent releases Donovan has ever coached, and both know exactly what causes every miss.
Frazier credits his success to repetition.
“On a typical game day, 350, 400 shots I try to make just so that I have a good rhythm going into the game,” Frazier said. “My favorite player in the NBA is Ray Allen, and he’s a great worker. But ever since I was in high school, I always liked to get into the gym early and just get a nice lather, get a good warm-up just so I’m in rhythm.
“And if I feel my shot is off a little bit I can kind of go in there and fine-tune it before the game so I can be comfortable with my shot.”
A preacher’s son and one of six children, Frazier doesn’t let many things bother him. But he has seemed uncharacteristically tense in recent weeks.
Frazier scoffed at the notion.
“When I make my mind up to do something, I’m going to give it my all,” he said. “I don’t really let distractions get in the way of what I’m trying to accomplish.”
And that means getting in the gym for a few hundred extra shots.