Tulane junior forward Melvin Frazier does not say much, but his skill development speaks volumes about his work ethic and desire.
Frazier, named second-team All-American Athletic Conference and the most improved player in the league this week, may be wearing a Green Wave uniform for the final time if 10th-seeded Tulane (14-16, 5-13) loses to Temple (16-14, 8-10) on Thursday night in the first round of the AAC tournament in Orlando, Florida.
Although he defers questions about his future, early NBA draft projections rate Frazier a late-first-round selection, an opportunity like that would be hard to pass up.
"I see it, but I'm just trying to finish up the season," he said. 'Whatever goes on from there, I'll just go with the flow. I will get with my family and with coach (Mike Dunleavy) and just go from there."
He already has come a long way. He arrived at Tulane as an athletically gifted but raw three-star prospect from Higgins High on the West Bank, averaging 5.2 points and 3.1 rebounds in his freshman year under former coach Ed Conroy.
When Dunleavy replaced Conroy, Frazier's numbers increased to 11.5 points and 4.6 rebounds, but he shot just 43.8 percent and had a poor assist-to-turnover ratio (46-to-72).
"I kiddingly told him that he could go out for the role (of the One-Armed Man) in 'The Fugitive' because he didn't have a left hand," Dunleavy said. "He laughed it off, but it kind of got to him a little bit. He worked extremely hard on that. If you watch our games now, you can see that he finishes really strong with his left hand high off the glass."
Entering the AAC tournament, Frazier is averaging 15.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists while shooting 55.8 percent, the third-highest accuracy rate in the conference. No one else ranked among the top 10 has taken anywhere near as many 3-pointers as Frazier's 88, an indication of how lethal he has been from inside the arc (62.5 percent).
"I'm just understanding the game more," he said. "The game slowed down for me. I can see stuff before it happens and make the right plays. I've put in the work, and it's showing."
Frazier's offensive game had holes across the board through his sophomore season, when his dunking ability was his primary asset, but he eliminated them one by one.
Dunleavy pointed out he was shooting on the way down, so Frazier corrected that flaw with plenty of repetitions. After hitting a dismal 26.4 percent of his 3-point attempts a year ago, he raised that number to 38.6, sinking 6 of 8 long-distance shots against SMU.
His confidence in his ball-handling rose, allowing him to drive to the basket in traffic. His court vision improved, so he has more assists (84) than turnovers (74) for the first time in his career.
"He's got the full package," Dunleavy said. "He can post up and attack you. He can dunk over you and he can shoot the 3."
Already a defensive asset with his long arms and quick anticipation, Frazier became more disciplined, ranking second in the AAC in steals (2.2 per game) while taking fewer chances.
"He's going to make your star guy have to work for what he gets," Dunleavy said. "You may get your points, but typically it's going to take some volume for it to happen."
Frazier will do his best at the Amway Center, the home of the Orlando Magic, to help Tulane reverse a slide in which it has lost 10 of its last 12. Part of that dip was because of the chest contusion he suffered in the Wave's last meeting with Temple on Feb. 4, a painful injury that forced him to miss the better part of two games and affected his shooting plus his ability to take contact for a few weeks.
Tulane nearly matched its conference-opening win at Temple anyway, leading the Owls late before succumbing without Frazier at Devlin Fieldhouse. He will be healthy for the rubber match, and if his recently cold-shooting teammates help him out, the Wave will have a fighting chance to advance to a quarterfinal matchup with No. 2 seed Wichita State.
"We're similar to (Temple), actually, if you look at our lineups and matchups," Dunleavy said. "Where they have the advantage is they are a much deeper team, but when we're making shots, we're pretty good."