PHOENIX — When legendary former Arizona basketball head coach Lute Olson visits US Airways Center to cheer on his former center Channing Frye, it must be strange for him to watch the college post player jack up 12 threes, as Frye did with Olson sitting in the second row on Wednesday against Houston.
“He gives me a hard time sometimes about, ‘You should have let me shoot the three, Coach,’” Olson said after the game in the Suns’ locker room, “and I said, ‘Yeah, then we could have had a 5-10 point guard rebounding underneath while you were shooting those threes.’
“He always had touch. He could always shoot the ball. It’s just that when you’re that size and you’re in college you’re not going to be out doing that, you’re going to be in banging underneath. It’s fun to watch his progress. When you look at it, he came out of high school as the 178th-ranked senior in the country and four years later was the No. 1 senior pick in the draft gives you an idea of his work ethic.”
Frye’s shooting prowess from long range must be a major surprise to anybody who has followed his career, as Channing had only knocked down 26 threes in his first four years in the NBA and his four years in college combined, but in 37 games with the Suns he has already hit 95 of them, second in the league to Danilo Gallinari. That’s helped him average a career-high 13.0 ppg to go with a career-best 6.1 rpg.
Some may have thought Steve Kerr was being overly optimistic when he said before the season he expected Frye to knock down at least 100 long balls. Having hit six three-pointers in a game on five separate occasions, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets to 100 on Monday.
Even so, Suns head coach Alvin Gentry still thinks Frye passes up threes at times, even on Wednesday when he chucked up 12 long balls.
“We try to tell him, ‘Here there’s going to be some nights where you might take 15 threes,‘” Gentry said. “That’s OK with us as long as they’re within the rhythm of our offense, which can easily happen. So he’s got to realize that, because what he does is that he stretches the floor and then that allows us to run screen and roll with Amare and Steve, and that opens up the floor for them.”
It’s not only OK for Channing to take 15 threes if the offense dictates it, it’s encouraged. Nowhere in his NBA career has he ever enjoyed close to that kind of freedom, and then there’s that point guard he’s teamed with.
“He’s got the perfect guard to play with in Nash,” Olson said. “Nash is going to find him as soon as he gets open, and Channing does a nice job of moving to keep the passing lanes open with Nash. He’s doing a great job. I felt that once he got in a system where they would encourage him to shoot that shot — and to have a guard like Nash is just something that’s just perfect for him. He’s done a great job, fun to watch.”
Added Gentry, “I think having the opportunities is what he hasn’t had. I felt he would be a good guy who would fit in with what we were able to do.”
Olson regrets missing out on Dudley
You cannot fault Olson for not going after Suns forward Jared Dudley when he was coming out of San Diego’s Horizon High School. After all, Dudley’s name did not even appear in Rivals’ list of the top 150 prospects in his class of 2003 nor Scout’s list of the top 100 prospects in the class (a guy by the name of LeBron topped both lists).
Olson is not the only high major coach lamenting not making a harder push for the Suns’ stud bench player. Dudley “received meager attention from some West Coast Conference schools, but was so lightly regarded by the power conferences that he was considering enrolling in prep school,” according to a New York Sun article. He was “a virtual unknown to most of college basketball as a high school player,” according to McCabe on the ACC. And ESPN’s Andy Katz reported that Dudley chose Boston College over hometown San Diego State.
Let that context inform the following conversation from Wednesday night as Dudley and Olson exchanged pleasantries in the Suns’ locker room.
Olson: “I always give him a hard time about how in the devil did you ever get out of the West to Boston College? He was MVP in one of our camps.”
Me: “And San Diego’s your recruiting ground, huh?”
Dudley: “That’s his ground. They had a good class coming up. They had like (Andre) Iguodala, Hassan (Adams) (Editor’s Note: they were from the class of 2002, but close enough). Big class.”
Olson: “But we blew it, I’m telling you now.”
A lucky charm
Suns owner Robert Sarver joked that the Suns need to take Olson with them on the road because Frye does so well in games his former coach attends.