Newsday: Jason Fraser, Part 1

October 26, 2001

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Title: FRIDAY SPECIAL / He’s The Man / But when 6-10 star Jason Fraser is in school, he tries to be just another kid Series: The first in an occasional look into the life of Amityville senior Jason Fraser, one of the nation’s best high school basketball players. Part I follows Fraser through a typical school day.
Publication: Newsday – Long Island, N.Y.
Author: Jason Molinet. STAFF WRITER
Date: Oct 26, 2001
Start Page: A.98
Section: SPORTS
Text Word Count: 2284

The sun isn’t up, but Jason Fraser is – barely. His Monday begins in a cramped room cluttered with clothes, sneakers and trophies. The space is tight by anyone’s standards. It is especially confining for the 6-10, 210-pound Fraser.

A look at the bedroom walls tells you something else about Fraser: He is a teenager in demand. There are flattering notes and fawning letters from some of the biggest names in college basketball. With what some believe are the physical tools and mental acumen to jump straight to the NBA, the Amityville basketball star is widely considered one of the nation’s top 10 high school seniors.

“Jason’s defensive prowess is unparalleled in Long Island history,” says Long Island basketball historian George Davila. “What he does defensively is worth the price of admission.”

Long Island has produced an impressive roster of pro players, from Bellport’s Randy Smith to Roosevelt’s Julius Erving to Whitman’s Tom Gugliotta to Cold Spring Harbor’s Wally Szczerbiak. There’s little doubt Fraser will join the club. Will it happen as early as this summer?

“I’m not an NBA scout, but in my personal opinion, he’s not far off,” says Amityville basketball coach Jack Agostino, who has watched Fraser grow from a shot-blocking machine as a gangly freshman to an overall force in the low post.

This is the same kid who put the rest of New York basketball on notice last March with his 20-point, 22-rebound MVP effort in Amityville’s 87-70 win over Section VI champ Williamsville East in the state public schools Class B title game. A Fraser-led team also won in 2000.

On this day, Fraser quietly makes his bed and waits to use the bathroom. He has to move fast. Nine people live in the three-bedroom apartment he shares with his mom, Edmarie, six younger siblings and older cousin. Fraser’s mother emigrated from Jamaica when she was 15. She works as a nurse and raises her children alone.

Fraser understands this is the best she can do. And he loves her for it.

“She doesn’t buy herself anything,” he marvels. “She puts it all into us.”

His father, Raymond Williams, lives in Harlem and has a family of his own. Jason, the lone child produced by Raymond and Edmarie, rarely sees his father.

“It doesn’t bother me anymore,” Fraser says. “My uncle is my father figure.”

After a quick shower, Fraser turns on the TV in the room he splits with his cousin, Shawn Campbell. The Yankees are on “SportsCenter.” Fraser is a big New York sports fan, but he tunes in instead to “The Weather Channel.”

“Do I wear sweats?” he asks, his face covered in a pasty-white Noxema mask.

A quick look at the local forecasts tells him it’s going to be sunny and warm, with highs in the upper 60s. After washing off the facial goop and smearing lotion on his arms and legs, he slips on blue jeans and a black T-shirt. Fraser is finally ready to take on the world. He kisses his mother goodbye and bounces out the door.

Despite all the fame and attention – Agostino refers to him as “The Franchise” and classmates call him “Superstar” – Fraser usually takes the bus to school. Once he’s there, Fraser’s presence is acknowledged by virtually everyone walking the crowded hallway. He exchanges approving nods and elaborate handshakes as he navigates from class to class like a celebrity working the velvet rope at a Hollywood premiere.

“He’s actually pretty modest about it,” says senior Alexandria Gati, who shares a photography class with Fraser and, like Fraser, is a peer leader. “He knows he’s popular. But he doesn’t let it go to his head.”

There’s little doubt Fraser enjoys his position of power among his schoolmates. The 18-year-old with the easy smile has made-for-TV looks and the personality of a used-car salesman. In fact, Fraser has worked as a busboy at a bowling alley, a telemarketer and, yes – a used-car salesman.

The resolve he pours into basketball can be seen in the classroom, too. Fraser, who carries a 3.0 grade-point average and scored an 860 in his first attempt at the SAT, good enough to qualify for freshman eligibility (he will retake the test for good measure next month), is alert and involved in each class.

Fraser checks in at homeroom, grabs his backpack from a corner locker and then goes to his first-period class: chemistry. As Fraser opens his notebook and sets his calculator, he realizes he is missing something important. Teammate and friend Trevour McIntosh is sitting next to him and provides the assist. He hands Fraser a pen.

Fraser spends nearly all of his second-period photography class in the darkroom helping McIntosh develop prints. It seems the two are inseparable. Both have third period free, so they head to the cafeteria, where they crack jokes with teammate Max Rose.

“We’re like brothers,” McIntosh says. “They call us T.J. Max short for Trevour, Jason, Max. We’re tight.”

Once the laughter dies down, Fraser tries to read the 19th-century horror novel “Frankenstein.” Fraser continues to read well into fourth period, one of three breaks in his schedule. He needs to polish off three chapters in time for his Gothic literature course, which is next.

A chilling line in the classic work fits what Fraser has gone through in recent months. “You are my creator, but I am your master,” the Creature told Dr. Frankenstein.

That’s especially true of Fraser’s recruitment process, which has taken on a life of its own. The week-long early signing period begins Nov. 15. That’s when Fraser can finally put a rest to the relentless circus that revolves around him.

The phone calls to his home are now a trickle, but he still uses his caller ID to screen the coaches he wants to avoid. At its peak last spring, the school received 20 pieces of mail a day for Fraser. Even more correspondence went to his apartment. The University of Southern California sent 150 handwritten letters to Fraser in one day. Although Fraser has had a lot of help with the process – the braintrust includes his mom and uncle, Paul Fraser, Agostino and AAU coach Gary Charles – the decision falls squarely on his shoulders.

Family members have weighed in on the subject. Strangers have lobbied him. Students and teachers stop him in the hallway on a daily basis to poll his choices. College coaches have pulled at his heartstrings. And every move is reported via the Internet – true or not.

“Everywhere I look there’s news about me,” Fraser says. “I’ve committed to St. John’s five times. I’ve committed to Illinois twice. I just laugh at it.”

When Fraser showed up for a three-day visit Oct. 12-14 in Chapel Hill, N.C., he was the highlight of Midnight Madness, the kickoff to the basketball season for the University of North Carolina. A capacity crowd at the Dean Dome chanted: “We want Fraser! We want Fraser!”

“It was crazy,” Fraser says. “People had written on their backs: WE WANT FRASER. It just sweeps you off your feet.”

As overwhelming as it all was, Fraser hasn’t committed yet. He’s narrowed his choices to four schools – Louisville, North Carolina, St. John’s and Villanova – and still has three visits remaining. This weekend, Fraser will go to Villanova, where he already has a strong relationship with new coach Jay Wright, who laid the groundwork with Fraser while he was coaching Hofstra.

St. John’s has been in the Jason Fraser sweepstakes from the outset. Many factors favor the Red Storm. Fraser not only grew up a fan of the program but has always wanted to play at Madison Square Garden. He’d have company there, too. Former teammate Tristan Smith is a freshman guard at St. John’s this fall, and McIntosh, a 6-6 senior, said he is being recruited by the Red Storm. Fraser makes his official visit to the Queens campus Nov. 10.

“My heart at one time was beating St. John’s,” Fraser says. “What was that feeling? Was it fate? Now I’m beginning to feel some of the pressure from the tugging and the pulling.”

Louisville became a serious contender only after new coach Rick Pitino watched Fraser dominate at the 325-team adidas Big Time Tournament in Las Vegas this summer while playing for his travel team, the Long Island Panthers. Pitino’s impressive pro and college resume, along with his no-nonsense sales pitch to Fraser, left a lasting impression. Fraser heads to the Bluegrass State Nov. 17.

“I’ve never seen a recruiting process like this,” Agostino says. “This is the kind of stuff you only hear about. But Jason has handled it unbelievably well. He knows it’s just basketball. It’s not life or death. He’ll make the best decision based on all the factors.”

Once Fraser leaves the cafeteria, his book in hand, it’s back to reality. He takes a seat near the front of his English class and actively discusses the torment of the beast and its creator.
“Can you imagine?” Fraser asks. “It’s like he’s living in two different worlds.”

On to sixth period and finite math, where classmate Alexandria Woodward jokingly prods Fraser. “When are your Air Frasers shoes coming out?” Woodward asks. “Can you autograph mine?” The joke subsides and Fraser focuses on the task at hand.

“Some athletes struggle to get by, and you hold your breath,” math teacher Charles Zuar says. “Jason is on the ball. All the kids look up to him, too.”

Zuar also knows there will be a job waiting for him if he ever gives up on teaching. Fraser jokingly promised Zuar could be his chauffeur someday.

After tackling inverse and contrapositive equations, Fraser heads back to the cafeteria. It’s lunchtime. One double cheeseburger and side of chicken nuggets later, Fraser is refueled. Economics is his eighth-period class. The topic centers on labor unions. Pretty soon the discussion turns to something these teenagers can relate to: the labor issues that have gripped – and sometimes interrupted – pro sports leagues in recent years, from the NBA lockout in 1998-99 to the 1994 baseball strike. It’s something Fraser likely will learn firsthand soon enough.

Like any teenager, Fraser says he dreams of playing in the NBA. Three of the top four picks in June’s NBA draft were high school players, signaling a dramatic shift in how the league mines for talent. All of which means Fraser could bypass college altogether.

“My mom wants me to go to school,” Fraser says. “But I can’t give you an honest answer now. If all those zeroes are put in front of you, not many people could turn that down.”

The bell rings, a signal that Fraser’s brain-draining, note- taking day is finally through. Ninth period is when Fraser lifts weights. Fraser’s streamlined frame is the picture of masculinity. On this day he decides to max out on the bench press. Fraser, McIntosh and Agostino are alone in the school’s spartan workout room loaded with free weights and little else.

Fraser bangs the wall with his enormous wingspan in a visceral display of emotion, and yells as he lifts more and more weight. Agostino encourages his players as McIntosh and Fraser take turns, moving steadily past 245 pounds to 255 and 260. When the duo is finally through, each tops out at 270 pounds, a record lift for an Amityville basketball player, Agostino declares.

“Fraser’s all about history,” Agostino says. “He wants to be the first in everything he does. He just wants to keep rewriting the record books.”

Amid all the craziness swirling around Fraser, from the recruiting odyssey to the NBA rumors, he is still living in the moment. His senior season has yet to play out. But if his junior year is any indicator – he averaged 21 points, 15 rebounds, 8 blocks and 6 assists and led Amityville to its first state Class B Federation title – then all the hype is well founded.

All the numbers and accomplishments are impressive, but it’s Fraser’s outlook that reveals the winner within. That is his greatest asset of all.

“You may be better than me,” Fraser says. “But once we step onto the court, I will outplay you.”