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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Lucky No. 3

Alan Walsh/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Alan Walsh
Alan Walsh/Arizona Daily Wildcat

After starting all of the Phoenix Suns’ 41 regular season games, former Arizona basketball star Channing Frye finds himself in an all-too-familiar position — back on the bench.

As Phoenix attempts to climb out of a rough stretch after losing 15 of its past 25 games, Suns head coach Alvin Gentry pulled Frye from the Suns’ starting lineup. Including Monday night’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Suns have dropped four straight games.

Despite the benching, Frye found satisfaction throughout the first half of the season, playing the most significant role for an NBA team in his five-year career.

“”Honestly, as cliché as this is, every game I literally just, you know, say my little prayer like, ‘God thank you for even letting me know I’m going to play tonight,’ “” Frye said after a Jan. 6 victory against the Houston Rockets. “”(Gentry) just gives me opportunity and I just take advantage of them. I’m taking advantage of every day.””

Frye knew opportunity would come — it was only a matter of when.

After being the No. 8 pick in the 2005 NBA Draft to the New York Knicks, the ex-Wildcat earned a starting spot only to see his role fade as a result of injuries, coaching decisions and an eventual 2007 draft-night trade to the Portland Trailblazers. Even in Oregon, Frye’s place on the Blazers was small, but he kept his mouth shut and his attitude positive.

Last offseason, Frye’s opportunity came. The product of St. Mary’s high school in Phoenix signed with his hometown Suns.

“”I always knew I had a place (in the NBA). I always believed in myself,”” Frye said during a game that pitted his Suns against the Rockets and fellow ex-Wildcat Chase Budinger. “”If you’re trying to do the right things and just not getting the right opportunities, you look at yourself a lot.””

His fortune changed upon joining the Suns.

Within the Suns offensive system, Frye played the role that fit him best — he was told to shoot now and shoot later. Frye has hit six 3-pointers in each of five games this season. With point guard Steve Nash creating opportunities for Frye to hit from beyond the 3-point line, the center did what had made him the ninth all-time scorer in Arizona history: only this time it wasn’t from under the hoop but rather 23 feet and nine inches from it.

“”He kids me sometimes now that, ‘Coach you should’ve really let me shoot that 3,'”” said Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson, who was in Phoenix to watch Frye and Budinger. “”I said, ‘Yeah, I could have let you shoot the 3 and I could have had (former UA point guard) Jason Gardner or somebody underneath rebounding, that makes a lot of sense.’

“”But he’s done a great job and it’s perfect for him to be with Nash,”” Olson added. “”Channing just moves around that 3-point line and knows if he leaves a passing lane open to Nash, Nash is going to get him the ball.””

Channing the chameleon

Comparing Frye’s role at Arizona to his role playing for the Suns is nearly impossible. His post play in college earned him the third highest rebounding total in the UA history books.

“”I was a completely different player back then,”” Frye said, who played under Olson from 2001-05. “”I think what he did was he taught me just how to play the game and just trying to do my job. I took that role, being the post guy, being the center. Hey, it got me in the league, got me drafted and taught me a lot just about playing different positions.””

 

The 6-foot-11 center only launched 26 shots from beyond the 3-point line in college, connecting on just six of those. In 42 games this season alone, Frye has hit 98 of his 3-pointers — second-most in the NBA — on 43 percent shooting.

 

“”I think you just look at our system … it’s been working, so why stop it?”” Frye said. “”I think if you look at some of the better teams in the league, they have two big guys — one of them as a spacer and one of them as a popper. It gives everyone a chance to space.””

 

But after earning a blinding green-light to shoot from the Suns coaching staff, Frye’s reputation as an explosive offensive weapon has garnered some criticism. In a Suns system that emphasizes taking the open shot, Frye has been too hesitant, Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said after the Suns 118-110 early-January victory over the Rockets.

 

“”We try to tell him, ‘Here there’s going to be some nights where you might take 15 3’s,'”” Gentry said, even after Frye’s 6-for-12 performance from long distance that night. “”That’s OK with us as long as they’re within the rhythm of our offense, which can easily happen. There was an opportunity for him to shoot probably four or five more. Would have been fine with us.””

 

The Jan. 6 contest was only a minor mishap Frye’s part. Struggling through the second half of January, he hasn’t hit double-figure scoring since a Jan. 8 loss to the Miami Heat.

 

But through his rocky road from New York to Portland to the Valley of the Sun, Frye has been counted out before. After all, he was once a lightly recruited high school product, one that Olson said wasn’t considered a top-150 player in the country.

 

The Hall of Famer took a risk, and it paid off for both parties.

“”When I first saw him he was just a gangly kid,”” Olson said. “”What I liked about him was that he ran the floor. He was really coachable so you could see that. Four years later he was the No. 1 senior taken in the pro draft. I think that’s indicative of the kind of commitment that he makes and (his) work ethic.””

That work ethic led Frye to 3-point accuracy — perfect for the Suns’ system — and a little resiliency hasn’t hurt either.

“”For me, I think I just try to stay in faith and just growing up and just discovering how to play all over again,”” he said of keeping his head up through the tough times. “”It’s just been a blessing being here.””

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