Nobody loves basketball more than Newington’s star senior Ashanti Frazier.
Over the past four years the charismatic, do-it-all guard became a household name on the Connecticut basketball scene thanks to her on-court mastery and unwavering passion for the game.
Then March 10th happened.
That’s when Frazier’s high school basketball career abruptly ended in the third round of the Class L state tournament after the CIAC (Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference) decided to cancel the remaining winter sport’s season due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“When I heard I was pretty devastated and was kind of in shock, but now since there has been a time gap and now that there's been a nation shutdown it has allowed time for everyone to breath,” said Frazier, “It sucks to give a program all your dedication and love for four years and for it to end like that, but time lets you open your eyes to it so I definitely understand it.”
Despite the unceremonious end, Frazier has left a lasting legacy at NHS, playing a pivotal role all four years and helping the program win 17 regular season games in each of the last two seasons.
Her final times on the court at Newington High School are memorable for different reasons.
In the second round of the state tournament, which turned out to be Frazier’s last game in a Newington uniform, the Indians eliminated conference nemesis E.O Smith on March 6.
“I think that was the game when we knew we got this. We had our sights on our ring. We just really came together and jelled, we played defense really well, and were communicating together throughout the whole game,” Frazier said of the 50-34 home win over the Panthers, “GameTimeCT had them upsetting us. I don’t think we’ve ever been the favorite. We’re always the underdog, but we didn’t care. We’re a scrappy team and we like it.”
Following the news of the cancellation, Frazier and the team gathered one final time inside Richard Rogalski Gymnasium.
“We had a practice set up that day and coach [Marc Tancredi] made it a team meeting. We talked about what happened and how we could move on, and then I asked if we could go on the court. We all stood on the court and shared our favorite memory and brought it in one more time.”
Frazier, who plays with a fun-loving enthusiasm yet is all business on the court, had one final message of encouragement to her teammates, “It’s never just about wins and losses in basketball, it's about who you meet and the bonds that you have when you're together. We shared a lot of love and I learned a lot about myself because of them.”
Since first stepping on the high school courts as a wide-eyed freshman in the winter of 2016, Frazier has grown leaps and bounds as both a player and leader.
When she was seven years old, her family moved to Connecticut from Missouri and she quickly made a name for herself in the Newington community thanks to the game of basketball.
“I still have people coming up that remember playing against me or coaching me in Parks and Rec. It's funny because as time has gone on and I've played travel basketball in this community, every person that I'm good friends with now is through some kind of association with basketball. This community is built around the love that we share for everyone. Playing high school basketball in this community is special. Parents come up to me after the game and say that it was fun to watch us and that they'll be at the next game. That’s just how this community is. I love it here.”
Once in high school, Frazier hit the ground running. She became an immediate spark plug for the varsity team, averaging seven points and three steals per game, while learning the ropes from her mentor and 2017-graduate Abrial Murray.
As a sophomore her production increased, averaging 16 points, five rebounds and four steals per game, earning all-conference for a second straight season.
Prior to her junior year, there was a coaching transition with Tancredi taking over for Rick Bangs.
“Bangs, such a good guy, and then Tancredi came and when I first met him I thought he was super uptight,” a smiling Frazier recalled, “But then after the first couple of days I realized he could take a joke, so I knew we’d be good. I’ve grown to love him, love his whole family. My favorite memory this year was when he told the team that his wife was pregnant. It was really exciting, we’re adding another one to the family.”
She continued to thrive under the new regime, blossoming into more of a court general by increasing her efficiency and assist total, while still pouring in 14 points per contest as a junior.
Years of relentless work and dedication set up her final season at NHS, which she referred to as her “farewell tour”.
With a flair for the dramatic, she saved her best performances for this winter, filling up the headlines with a pair of game-winning shots in last-second victories over Windsor and Bristol Eastern. She also surpassed 1000-career points in a win over East Catholic on Jan. 16.
Newington’s 17-3 record gave them a 3-seed in the state tournament and Frazier and the team set their sights on the ultimate prize, a trip to Mohegan Sun.
“We looked at the bracket and we said ‘we’re done playing like the underdogs, we were going to play like the 3-seed. We’re going to go out and get this’. This whole team from day one was going to get a ring.”
The Indians breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs, winning by 33 and 16 points, and were set to host Pomperaug in the quarterfinals.
Then the world changed and it was over in the blink of an eye.
“I had just gotten out of school and pulled into the parking lot at my house and a teammate texted me and they ask if it was real. Then every senior that I knew texted me,” Frazier said upon hearing the news that her senior season was over following the tourney win, “It's more less the fact that we didn't know it was our last game. We played like we could lose this game and this could be out last game but we didn't know it going in.”
Helping Frazier process through the news was senior teammate Sabrina Soler and sophomore sharp-shooting twins, Karissa and Marlie Zocco, who she referred to as her little sisters.
Her mom, Shanielly Copeland, was her rock throughout the entire ordeal.
“Whatever storm that comes, she’s always been there for me. I fully love that woman. Initially she let me soak it up and then she said she was here when I was ready to talk and when the protest happened she let me go to that,” said Frazier, referring to the March 11 protest outside the CIAC headquarters in Cheshire, “It felt really good. I was able to speak my mind and be with other people that felt the same, especially the seniors because this has been a devastating ending.”
After the devastation and dust had settled, Frazier came to terms that her final high school game would be the win over CCC champion, E.O. Smith.
“As soon as we won the whole team stormed on the court, we were a family. It’s not how I thought it would be, but now I'm satisfied with how it ended.”
The soon-to-be-graduate still holds out hope that her time at Newington High is not done and that schools will reopen so the seniors can experience the perks of the final weeks of high school, including walking across a stage to receive their diploma.
But if it is the end, her time at NHS has been a positive one.
“At Newington there’s always someone to lean one. There’s a full family effect here.”
Frazier’s next stop on her athletic and academic journey is Rhode Island College, where she’ll join a successful team coming off a 22-5 season.
“It’s a beautiful campus and the team fully accepted me right away. They have a good team and they have a good amount of players that want to win. I like the style of play and I like the coaches and players.”
No matter where life leads her, Frazier said that she’ll always be a part of the Newington community and is proud that she has left her heart and soul on the local courts.
“I got on [my teammates] a lot but I want them to remember me as a person that pressed their buttons and sometimes made them uncomfortable, but at the end of the day I was their biggest supporter. I love this team with all my heart and we have all become a super tight-knit family.”
“I’m hoping to a year from now to be playing with my team at Rhode Island College and be successful, but be able to come back. The state tournament should be around now and I want to see my guys get a ring.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin