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Thursday, March 8, 2012
Calabasas plays for assistant Frazier

By Sean Ceglinsky



CALABASAS -- They play for him.

His unwavering spirit is motivation.

His passion for the game carries on.

His recovery remains a possibility.

The Calabasas High School boys' basketball team dedicated its season to fallen assistant coach Joe Frazier, who has been in coma since the summer after he was involved in a motorcycle accident while wearing a helmet and being struck by a hit-and-run driver.

What a memorable season it has been.

Calabasas basketball
Calabasas players from left, Spencer Levy, Joshua Cohan, Holden Israel and Zac Hepps stand with a cutout of assistant coach Joe Frazier, who is in a coma after a motorcycle accident last summer.
The Coyotes secured the first Southern Section championship in the school's 37-year history last week in honor of Frazier with a 69-39 Division 3-AA victory over South Torrance. Believe it or not, they are not quite finished.

Playing with heavy hearts, Calabasas took a step in the right direction toward acquiring another ring for Frazier with Wednesday's 86-56 victory over Bakersfield Frontier in a Division III first-round playoff game of the Southern California Regionals.

“Joe is a great assistant to me, a great coach to the kids and a great friend to everyone, there was no way we were going to let him down,'' Coyotes coach Jon Palarz said. “When the accident happened, it hit home hard. Joe has been coaching with us at Calabasas for almost two years, but he was embraced right away and is loved by so many people.''

Similar to how they have done so many times in the past, the Coyotes (28-3) plan to commemorate Frazier again by wearing a patch with the initials JF on their left shoulders during Saturday's second-round game at home against Bellflower St. John Bosco.

“To have something so inspirational pushing us the whole way to accomplish our goal of winning a title and championship ring for our coach Joe Frazier, it's something that I don't think I'll never forget for the rest of my life,'' senior Joshua Cohan said.

Frazier was leaving campus on Aug. 25, the first week of school, and heading home when his life suddenly changed.

According to LAPD reports, he was struck near the intersection of Ventura Boulevard and Wilbur Avenue in Tarzana, located in the San Fernando Valley. Frazier suffered a head injury, was rushed to Northridge Hospital Medical Center and underwent emergency surgery. The 28-year old was listed in critical condition by a hospital spokeswoman at the time.

The hit-and-run driver has not been identified.

Frazier remains in a coma, hospitalized at the same facility where he was treated. His mother, Tai Whaley, has been by his bedside as often as possible. His friends and family visit frequently, of course.

“He has shown signs of progress, baby steps,'' Whaley said. “He was non-responsive at first, but is able to open his eyes and move his feet and hands now. Doctors have told me his gag reflexes are good too. Hearing those kinds of things is truly encouraging.

“We pray every day and are steadfast. If anyone can recover from this, it's Joe. My son is a fighter. He's a strong individual. Always has been and always will be.''

The Coyotes adopted the same type of persona this season despite not being considered a legitimate threat in the upper echelons of Southland basketball.

Nevertheless, they particularly played well from the start and opened eyes by taking home a couple of tournament titles. A somewhat challenging nonleague schedule followed. A near perfect run through the traditionally difficult Marmonte League, which culminated with a 10-1 record and an all-important title, appeared to prep them for a postseason run.

Once the playoffs rolled around, it was time for Calabasas to refocus its efforts. Keeping the winning ways alive and well for Frazier was the ultimate goal.

“At the start of the season, there a was tragic accident to our assistant coach Joe Frazier, that sort of fired us up and brought us together, really jump-started things,'' senior Spencer Levy said. “Every day, every practice, we played as hard as we could for coach.''

Frazier is no stranger to locals. He played his high school ball at Pasadena Muir. After a standout prep career, Frazier decided to stay close to home and ended up attending nearby Cal State Northridge where he enjoyed his share of success on the court.

In 2002, Frazier was named to the Big West Conference All-Freshman team. The following season, he was the Matadors' defensive player of the year. In 2004, Frazier made the conference's all-tournament team. He holds the program record for steals in a game (10).

“The support from everyone at Calabasas has been amazing, I don't know of many communities that would have reached out like they did for our family,'' Whaley said. “I talk to coach Palarz all the time, the players come by the hospital whenever they can. I get a phone call from someone every day. Not a day goes by without someone thinking about Joe.

“I can't say enough about the people in Pasadena and Northridge, as well as Shepard of the Hills church. They have all been great. It was like Joe spent his childhood in each one of these places growing up, everyone has embraced him as one of their own.''

Calabasas certainly embraced Joe Frazier as one of their own. The Coyotes dedicated their season to him, after all, and honored him the best they know how.

Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.