Ever notice that the plays that are made to look easy draw the biggest applause at a basketball game?
Think about it. Which elicits greater fan reaction, a Jordanesque swoop-to-the-hoop, wham-bam, thank-you-Sam (Vincent) ultra-jam on a breakaway, or the textbook screen by a sweat-drenched, muscle-bound, 250-pound power forward?
Nothing gets more of a charge out of an audience than the spectacular, which does not always involve a lot of effort. And that is precisely why it is unlikely that a play by Alan Fraser will ever spark much of an ovation.
Fraser's way of giving a charge is taking a charge. Workmen such as he are sometimes referred to as "blue-collar" players. Fraser might be called dirty blue collar.
That's not dirty as in "he's a dirty player." It's dirty as in "get down and get dirty," which is what the 6-foot-6 Cal State Northridge senior does best on the basketball floor. And, for that matter, away from the court.
"Alan plays with a certain degree of reckless abandon," says Northridge Coach Pete Cassidy in perhaps the understatement of the season.
Don't bother trying to tell Fraser that basketball is supposed to be a non-contact sport. The welts and scratches on his arms and back are testimony otherwise.
The funny thing is that Fraser makes it seem as if he wouldn't have it any other way. "He's an in-the-trenches kind of guy," Cassidy said.
The same could be said of him sans basketball gear. Indeed, Cassidy says that long after Fraser's playing days at Northridge are over, he will be best remembered not for his athletic prowess but for his apparel.
It might be said that Fraser dresses blue-collar, but most of his shirts don't even have a collar.
"I don't know if he has any nice clothes--like a pair of slacks," Cassidy said. "But I'm not sure it matters. I suppose you could put Alan in the nicest Brooks Brothers suit around and he'd still look disheveled.
"It can be 30 degrees out and he's wearing a sloppy, baggy shirt--probably mis-buttoned or unbuttoned--and a pair of baggy shorts."
Fraser doesn't contradict the image as he sits in the gymnasium bleachers after a practice dressed in a blue sweater and soiled acid-washed jeans.
"I knew they'd say something about that," he says with a laugh when informed of Cassidy's comments. "It's true. I don't even have a suit, and I don't want one. That's why I'm not in the business department anymore. I was a business major but I couldn't picture myself 9 to 5 in a three-piece suit."
Fraser is now studying film production. "I figure I'd rather be poor and doing something I like than be loaded but bored out of my mind," he says.
That he has gained a reputation for dressing rather casually doesn't bother Fraser in the least. Nor does he seem to care that he is complimented more for diligence than talent as a basketball player. He is reminded of his physical limitations just about every time a scouting report is studied.
Derrick Gathers, Jemarl Baker, Darren Matsubara and Sandy Brown are referred to as "the athletes" on Northridge's team. Fraser, Kris Brodowski and Todd Bowser are, Fraser says, "the hard workers."
"One time one of the coaches called Kris an athlete and I just looked at him and said, 'You know, Kris, that's the first time anyone has called one of us an athlete.' "
Lately however, Cassidy has been using more flattering terms when referring to Fraser.
"By my way of thinking, he's been our most valuable player," Cassidy says. "He has been absolutely our most consistent player."
Northridge got exactly what it bargained for two years ago when Fraser was signed out of Fullerton Junior College. "We knew he was a banger, a rugged-type player who goes hard all the time," Cassidy says. "We needed someone like him to complement Todd."
Todd Bowser, a three-year starter, was expected to be the Matadors' most dangerous inside threat this season. But instead of teaming with the 6-8 Bowser, Fraser has been forced to replace him much of the time.
A sore ankle slowed Bowser in the early season. Then, in a game against Chapman College three weeks ago, CSUN's top rebounder and No. 2 scorer suffered a badly bruised hip after he dove into the stands trying to save a loose ball.
Bowser is still sore and has played sparingly in only two games since then. But his absence has been somewhat offset by the emergence of Fraser.
In the 17 games before Bowser left the lineup, Fraser, playing power forward, averaged 6.8 points and 5.0 rebounds. In six games at center, those numbers have improved to 11 points and 6.0 rebounds.
His last outing might have been his best. In a 90-61 blowout of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Fraser scored 15 points, grabbed eight rebounds and, with support from Brodowski and Kendell McDaniels, dominated play inside the key.
No one, including Fraser, seems able to explain why he appears so much more comfortable at center. Cassidy surmised that the former Newport Harbor High standout probably played the position most of his career.