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Frease my speech please

By Mike Hills
On March 21, 2012

While watching our beloved Muskies play the Mountain Hawks of Lehigh late Sunday, I felt I knew the storyline: get the ball to Holloway and queue up a victory. Lo and behold, I observed the legend himself sink improbable shots to maintain a legacy that will not soon be forgotten.
But something more important happened on Sunday. Kenny Frease played the game of his life. It wasn't the first time we had seen flashes of greatness from Frease. In a promising start his freshman year, Kenny led the team in blocks, including five in the 2009 NCAA Tournament game against Pittsburgh. After a relatively quiet sophomore season,
junior-year Kenny averaged a respectable 12 points and over seven rebounds per game. And then came the suspension. Before the season even started, Frease was suspended for cryptic, unexplained reasons. There was talk of a lazy work ethic. There was talk of bad grades. There was talk of too much drinking at Dana's. There was a lot of talk. It is no secret that I openly questioned Frease's character heading into the season,
and I make no apologies for what was written given the circumstances.
After the short suspension, Frease seemed to epitomize the Xavier 2011-12 basketball season - highs and lows. From a promising start against Morgan State up to the much talked about Crosstown Shootout, Kenny played well. He scored double digits in his first game and had a double-double along with four blocks against UC in that fateful game.
But, as we all know the story, that mountain-top high of beating
our interconference rival soon gave way to a depression-like low. In perhaps one of the lowest
points, Kenny Frease missed critical free throws against Hawaii that would have sealed the game. It turned into one of the worst losses of the season.
The critics returned. The Good Lord knows that the Newswire has had a hand in bashing
the senior center. As a four-year player how could you miss free throws in key situations? Where was the senior leadership on a team that was struggling so much and yet had undisputable potential? Why was a team that was ranked No. 8 in the country suddenly sitting on the bubble heading into A-10 play?
And on Sunday, I was proven wrong. Frease dominated inside. Granted, Frease played well against a Patriot League team unknown to America before the NCAA Tournament but do not sell Kenny short. He matched up with Gabe Knutson, who had just finished off the vaunted Mason Plumlee of No. 2 seeded Duke. I had to smile as I watched; I have seldom been so happy to be proven wrong. Your 25 points and 12 rebounds were not a surprise;
they were realization of the potential I knew you had, Kenny.
It sure is great to enter the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in five years. But it is even better to see Kenny Frease find his rhythm on the biggest stage of college basketball and in the final games of his collegiate career.
In fact, Kenny might be the most important piece of Xavier's tournament run. The Muskies will not be able to rely on superior guard play if they wish to keep advancing in the tournament.
In many ways, a dominant
post presence à la Sunday night will be the key to defeating Baylor and - gasp - going even further in this wild NCAA Tournament.
Kenny, I'm sure grateful to see you reach your potential. While I have found your play at times frustrating and at times superb, I would be remiss if I did not mention you as a crucial member
of Xavier's basketball team since you have arrived on campus.
While I have been a loud critic of your play, in terms of both attitude and commitment, both tournament games so far have proven me wrong. I came to realize Sunday night that I would much rather eat my words and watch you silence the critics en route to a Sweet 16 appearance than revisit early stumbles. Tournament games are what matter most, and you showed you can play tough on the big stage. While I may have a loud laugh (unfortunately I can't promise that will go away), you just may silence this critic as long as we keep playing. Actually, you might have already silenced this critic for good.


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