Freshman Melvin Frazier faked a shot in the corner, drove along the baseline and elevated for an emphatic dunk during a recent Tulane men’s basketball practice.
His teammates acted like nothing special had happened as everyone ran back down the court.
For Frazier, a 6-foot-5 wing from Avondale, the spectacular already has become normal. He has plenty of work ahead of him as he tries to become comfortable in coach Ed Conroy’s system, but his athletic ability gives him a nice head start.
“Our guys’ reaction (to his dunks) has kind of become routine, too,” Conroy said. “If he gets a step on you, he’s going to be tough to guard around that basket, because he’s such a quick jumper, and his wing span is so long that he’s very deceptive and hard to stop around the basket.”
The Green Wave, looking for its first NIT or NCAA tournament bid since 2000, has lacked a high-wire act like Frazier since Conroy arrived for the 2010-11 season, but the move from Conference USA to the more visible American Athletic Conference opened up doors that did not use to exist.
Frazier led Higgins High to the Class 5A playoff semifinals as a senior, averaging 17.3 points and 8.6 rebounds while earning first-team All State honors. He considered Arkansas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State among others before choosing to stay close to home, joining what is easily the most touted signing class in Conroy’s tenure.
He stood out right away on both ends of the floor.
“With his athleticism and length, he gets a lot of deflections and steals,” Conroy said. “He creates a lot of havoc on the defensive end. He’s a really good finisher around the rim, not just on dunks but also on other shots. He has a great ability to take hits and still make a shot.”
Although Frazier banged in a 3-pointer Wednesday on the last possession of practice, his perimeter game needs improvement.
“I’ve been working on my ball-handling, shots and making quick decisions to get me better to play the wing,” he said. “I’ve gotten better, but I still have to get better at it.”
How much of an impact he makes at the start of the season remains to be determined. Conroy’s demanding style has not been friendly to newcomers in the past. Outside of point guards, the highest scoring average for one of his freshman was center Dylan Osetkowski’s 6.6 last year, but Frazier will get every opportunity to prove his readiness.
“He’s just scratched the surface,” Conroy said. “He has a lot of potential.”
Manning the point
While the Green Wave can afford to wait for Frazier to develop, that is not the case with fellow local product Von Julien.
Julien, a three-time first-team All-State selection who led Riverside to four 2A state championships, is the only true point guard on the roster with the transfers of Jonathan Stark and Keith Pinckney.
“It’s a lot of pressure, but I’m just getting acclimated with the team,” Julien said. “I’m just working on my defense and getting accustomed to what coach (Conroy) wants me to do. After I get that down, I’ll do better.”
Conroy likes Julien’s unselfishness. He averaged 9.2 assists for his career at Riverside, always looking to pass first.
“He can really push the basketball and find the open man quickly,” Conroy said. “He’s improving his ability to score, but the thing I like most is he defends hard, he plays with great speed and he really shares the ball.”
LSU transfer Malik Morgan was the other point guard during five-on-five drills in Wednesday’s practice.
“We’re giving guys a different shot at it, but I do like Malik in that role,” Conroy said. “He can find guys and has willingness to share the ball and can make you pay with his scoring ability as well.”
Conroy said Osetkowski, who had a solid freshman year but needed to trim down, was in much better physical condition than last season, allowing him to run the floor as Tulane quickens the pace on offense. … Freshman Taron Oliver, an Oxon Hill, Maryland, product listed at 6-9, 310, is nowhere close to playing shape. … Integrating five freshmen plus Washington transfer Jernard Jarreau was an issue Wednesday as Conroy stopped practice repeatedly to correct mistakes.