CHAMPAIGN — There were moments at the start of last season that Trent Frazier wondered if he was good enough.
Heading into the University of Illinois' first game of the season Thursday against Evansville, those doubts are gone. The same freshman who needed consoling after last year's exhibition loss to Eastern Illinois is now a sophomore at the forefront of opposing teams' scouting reports.
Frazier led Big Ten Conference freshmen in scoring (12.5 points per game), assists (3.1 per game) and steals (1.7 per game) last season. He landed on the Big Ten all-freshman team and was honorable mention all-Big Ten.
“In the middle of the season, my flow started going," Frazier said. "I think I was out there playing my game and doing what I do best to help this team win. Right now I think I’m shooting the ball incredibly fine. I have a lot of confidence. When I’m out there playing I’m very comfortable."
But 10 months ago, the 6-foot-1 Frazier wasn't sure he belonged. It started with a 1-for-5 shooting performance for two points in the exhibition loss at Eastern Illinois and continued through the first 10 games of the season, when he averaged 5.8 points and was shooting 36.3 percent from the field.
“I didn’t think I was good enough for this level," Frazier said. "I continued to work hard, put in my time, put up shots and do what I do. I think that helped me become the person I am today."
Frazier leaned on his father, Rodnell Frazier, for advice. While Trent's confidence wavered, Rodnell's didn't. Trent got a text from his father every day, urging him to keep going and to keep pushing.
"He pushes me to keep my head up and do what I do," Trent said. "I love this game. This is what I play for, I play for my family and there’s nothing better than that."
On Dec. 9, Frazier broke out with 16 points at UNLV and followed with a 20-point effort against Longwood. The UNLV game started a string of six straight in double figures. Frazier scored in double figures in the 19 of the 22 remaining games, including a career-high 32 at home against Wisconsin.
“Trent has a tremendous swagger,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “He lost it for a little bit, but that dude’s got a big swagger."
He opened last week's exhibition win against Illinois Wesleyan by being assertive on offense, connecting on pull up 3-pointers. There was no formal announcement, but the feeling in State Farm Center was that the prolific offense he displayed as a freshman was back and even better. Frazier finished with 19 points and said afterwards his confidence is "through the roof."
Underwood said Frazier's hot start helped the team settle in, then Frazier turned his attention away from scoring and more to helping the six freshmen find their roles.
Frazier likes the idea that opposing teams will hone in on slowing him down. He's just as content to get his teammates involved.
“Coach Underwood has talked to me about that, me being at the top of the scouting reports this season," Frazier said. "I think the thing with that is my focus is not forcing anything and letting my game come to me.
"I think I can score anytime I want, but me not forcing that and getting my points on the defensive side — getting steals, getting in the right spots and getting my teammates involved. That will open up shots for me."
On Monday, Frazier let out a goal of his in practice, and Underwood and the team intend to hold him to it: He wants to be an all Big-Ten defender.
A year ago, that wouldn't have been anywhere near the top of his wish list. But things aren't the same as they were last year. Frazier is focusing on facilitating and defense and being vocal in practice on a young team.
“We’ve seen tremendous growth," Underwood said. "He accepts (being at the top of scouting reports) and he loves the fact that he has guys like (Andres Feliz), Ayo (Dosunmu) and Tevian (Jones) and guys around him who can help. He knows it’s not all about him, but he knows he’s the focal point. He gets it.
"We’re starting to see him much more assertive in practice vocally. Trent always goes. Trent never gets tired. Now that we see that vocal piece come into play, that’s a good thing."
Frazier spent the offseason working on his game and his body. He spent time with strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher. Frazier increased his maximum vertical leap to 42 inches and worked on driving with his right hand.
He could have rested on a freshman season where he built a runaway train of confidence after initial doubts. But in the same way that Frazier broke out of his doubts, he built on his freshman year — he went to work.
"He just could have said, ‘Hey, I’m a good player, I’m always going to be a pretty good player,’ but he’s tried to make himself better," Underwood said. "He’s done that through work and understanding what his weaknesses are. ... Trent is all about winning."