Freshmen need to find way out of funk for struggle Wave _lowres

Associated Press photo by GARY LANDERS Tulane guard Melvin Frazier, right, puts up a shot against Cincinnati forward Jacob Evans during the second half Jan. 24 in Cincinnati.

Touted freshman Melvin Frazier has not lived up to his own expectations or anyone else’s in his first year with the Tulane men’s basketball team as a four-star recruit from Higgins High School.

Yet, the people who watch him in practice every day remain convinced his attitude will help him reach the right altitude long before his career is over.

“Melvin’s definitely coming along,” starting guard and fellow New Orleans native Malik Morgan said. “He’s definitely going to be building from this year to next year. His work ethic is through the roof. He’s in here every night trying to get better.”

Frazier, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound wing player, just needs time for skill development. He arrived on campus with rare jumping ability but raw in every other department, leading to his meager averages of 4.9 points and 2.7 rebounds despite starting 10 games. He averaged 17.3 points as a senior at Higgins because he was the best athlete on the floor, getting easy baskets at the rim.

When those buckets were taken away from him in college, he had no fallback plan, scoring in double figures only four times through 27 games (with a high of 15) and making three or fewer field goals in all but one American Athletic Conference contest.

“It’s just been up and down,” he said as Tulane (10-17, 3-11 AAC) prepared for its Wednesday rematch at Devlin Fieldhouse of the triple-overtime victory it earned at East Carolina (10-17, 2-12) two weeks ago. “I’m trying to keep my head in the game and keep improving in practice. I need to be smarter, more patient and see the court better.”

Frazier is a man of few words, but his teammates and coaches speak volumes about him. They see a guy who has not sulked as his minutes fluctuated and he failed to make plays consistently, including a recent four-game stretch when he went 5 for 23 from the floor and committed nine turnovers.

“He’s really coachable and had just a tremendous attitude,” coach Ed Conroy said. “He did a great job off the court here academically and socially and adjusting to college. He was a tremendous athlete in high school, and he’s learning some of the other parts of the game, but he’s such an eager learner. It’s going to happen for him and he’s going to be outstanding.”

He could start by opening against East Carolina the way he finished in the teams’ last meeting. He struggled for almost all of the season-high 40 minutes he played that night, coughing up the ball four times and missing six of his first seven shots.

Senior Louis Dabney still had the confidence in Frazier to loft an alley-oop he dunked while being fouled with 3:10 left in the third overtime. The three-point play gave the Wave the lead for good at 90-87 as it pulled away to win 100-92.

Tulane needs to complete the sweep to avoid falling back into a tie for last place in the league and win its second conference home game in the past 15 tries.

“(Frazier) is capable of doing everything,” Conroy said. “There are some great guards in this league, and he’s learning how to become a complete player from the perimeter. He understands the commitment to working on all parts of his game.”

Frazier is shooting a dismal 12 of 45 on 3-pointers and 24 of 49 (49.0 percent) on free throws, but he has knocked down plenty of perimeter shots in practice. He has only 15 assists in 499 minutes, but he is a willing passer. He has gotten in trouble trying to drive through traffic, but he knows his suspect ball-handling skills will improve with repetition.

The year has been one long learning process.

“I keep going to the next play and I keep fighting,” he said. “I expect to be in the gym the whole summer working on my game. I will be much better next year.”