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Farewell, Big Kenny!

This is the second of three senior profiles we will run during what we have whimsically dubbed Farewell Week. Kenny Frease will be the focus of this essay. Andre Walker led us off on Monday, and Tu Holloway will have his curtain call here at Banners on Friday. All three seniors left an indelible mark on the program, and all three will be missed.

Kenny Frease was born too late, or perhaps too early. Basketball moves in cycles, and Kenny had the misfortune to come of age during one of the most guard-oriented periods in recent basketball memory. If he had emerged at the same time that teams were being built around giants like Patrick Ewing, he would have no doubt been the focal point of some team's attack. Perhaps ten or twenty years from now, teams will once again be looking to the post as the first option on offense. To paint him as the seven-foot foil to Jordan Crawford, Tu Holloway, and Mark Lyons, however, sells short the contributions the big man made to the Xavier program and underestimates the hole that will be left now that his career has come to an end.

Career stats:
8.1/5.3/0.9, .513/.166/.571

When Frease first signed with Xavier, he was one of the biggest - both literally and figuratively - recruits to ever commit to being a Musketeer. He also said that he wanted to do for X what Greg Oden had done for OSU. Looking at him, it was easy to imagine that he could do just that. His first challenge as a freshman, however, would be fighting his way into the rotation. Jason Love and D. Brown were starting at the forward positions, and Jamel McLean was coming off the bench in his first season of eligibility with Xavier.
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You know someone's getting the airplane after this one.

Despite the crowded front court situation, Frease was able to show flashes of his potential for X. His very first game was against IPFW, and he went for 12 and 7 with 3 blocks in 20 minutes off the bench. As the season went on, he had more games that gave reason to hope that he would be the next great Xavier big. He tallied 13 and 8 against Virginia, and scored 17 points against Charlotte. There were also stumbles, like the goose eggs he took against GW and Duquesne, or his DNP - CD against Fordham. The transition from high school to college is not an easy one, though, and Frease performed admirably as a freshman.

His sophomore year came around and Kenny was... essentially the same player. His game averages and shooting line were almost identical to his performances as a freshman. He still had ups - combining for 27 and 20 in back-to-back games against Duquesne and Fordham - and downs, like fouling out with only 2 points against Rhode Island. Rock bottom came in the form of 0/0/0 in five minutes against Kansas State in a double-overtime Sweet 16 loss that ended the careers of Xavier greats Jason Love and Jordan Crawford. "It hurts me to say this," Frease said in an interview before this year's Sweet 16, "but it was better for the team that I wasn't playing. The game was going too fast for me."

To his credit, Kenny looked himself in the eye and began the "Summer of Transformation" in that offseason. Plagued by conditioning problems in his first two years, Frease worked his body into the shape necessary to become Xavier's starting center. With the scrappy Jamel McLean filling the four, Frease put up his best statistical season with the Musketeers. He had the legs to go 42 minutes against Wofford, tearing down 18 boards in a triple-overtime win. He added 22 and 14 against Wake that December and 16 and 7 against Florida. While some games were better than others, he still averaged 12.4 and 6.9 in conference play as a junior. Even as a long and athletic Marquette team was tearing through Xavier during the NCAA tournament, Big Kenny held his own with 12/1/5 in 33 minutes.

While it looked like Kenny was poised for a monster senior year, it didn't quite come together for him at first. He had some trouble with "the responsibilities of a member of the Xavier basketball program" in October and got off to a sluggish start to the season. It looked like he had turned the corner with an absolutely dominant performance against UC, shutting down Yancy Gates when assigned to guard him and posting 13/13/1 with 4 blocks. Like so much of the Xavier season, though, it all went a little sideways for Big Kenny when the brawl broke out.

Though he struggled on the court off and on for the middle part of the season, Frease showed admirable character as a senior. While most people who hadn't been hit by Yancy Gates but did have access to the internet were calling for the Bearcat center's head, Kenny quietly reached out to him to offer forgiveness and bury the grudge. As the national media was debating whether or not it should be a felony to use the word "gangsta," Big Kenny took the podium at postgame press conferences and offered measured and appropriate responses to all the questions thrown at him, regardless of how the game had gone for the team or for him personally. His ability to handle becoming the media face of a school under such intense scrutiny is alone a worthy capstone to a player's career.

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If Kenny claims it, you should probably just go back and play D.
Big Kenny was not content to go out being remembered for his work off the court, though. With the team in desperate need of wins to continue its streak of NCAA tournament appearances, Frease stepped up and played the best basketball of his career. Over the course of his last ten games, he averaged 14.5/7.2/0.9 and provided the signature moments of his career. Against Richmond on February 25th, it was his offensive rebound of a missed Tu Holloway free throw that put Tu back on the line to seal the deal for Xavier. It was his bloodless 8-8 performance from the line in the second half - not to mention his monster board with 30 seconds left that led to Mark Lyons' winning layup - that helped trigger Xavier's 70-69 victory over UD in the conference tournament. Against Lehigh - with a Sweet 16 bid on the line and the team down double-digits - Big Kenny established dominance in the paint, going for 25/12/0 on 11-13/0-0/3-5 shooting and laying claim to every board within his considerable wingspan. Even against Baylor, Frease's 18 points on 7-10/0-0/4-5 despite not getting a touch on the post after the 11-minute mark left Xavier fans wondering what might have been.

So what is the final analysis of Frease's career? We've always been staunch supporters of the big man here, going to great pains to point out the things he offered that didn't always show up on the stat sheet. Even by his own admission, though, it was getting serious about the offseason after his sophomore year that really put a charge into his career. He was rarely helped out by officiating, often getting called for fouls that seemed to consist mostly of being bigger than the other guy. When the chips were down, however, Big Kenny came to play, boosting a flagging team from NIT contention to a couple of bad breaks short of the Elite Eight.

I'll just leave you with two moments from this year that encapsulated Kenny for me. The first was the brawl, with him bloodied but unbeaten, pumping both fists into the air. Afterward, he tweeted that he had scored whenever he wanted to and hadn't been scored upon, and defied anyone who doubted him to check the tape. His assertion was pretty accurate. The other moment came against Purdue. With X down 19 and the clock on the wrong side of ten minutes Mark Lyons missed the front end of a one-and-one. Kenny sprung into action, collecting the offensive board and slamming it home. On the way back down the floor - and despite the fact that Xavier was still down 17 and seemed to stand no chance of getting back into the game - his right arm stayed high and his left rose to equal it on the other side in the classic Kenny Frease airplane celebration. It was almost as if he knew something we didn't yet, or - even more cheekily - he was simply happy to be playing ball.

That's the image that will stay with me as Frease's career takes its place in the record books and a new crop of Musketeers takes the floor. Wherever Big Kenny ends up, I hope the big fella finds occasion to let the airplane fly from time to time. On the fans' side of things, I hope the Xavier faithful can take the time to appreciate just how much the program is going to have to replace now that Frease has graduated.