HANG TIME WEST – Of course he was nervous.
“There were some times,” Channing Frye said. “When I first came back, there were times when I was nervous.”
He had gone 557 days between games, from April 21, 2012, at Denver to Oct. 30, 2013, in Phoenix, not just his home arena as a Sun, but also his hometown. He had gone through a battery of tests just to be cleared for practice. He had missed an entire season at age 29, what should be the prime years for health, with dilated cardiomyopathy. An enlarged heart.
Damn right Frye was nervous.
And then he played. He immediately started for the Suns at power forward, the stretch four whose range was designed to create space in the offense. Understandably, he struggled with his timing and his shot, and didn’t worry. Frye initially worried whether he was supposed to be so tired after workouts and games and then remembered, yes, he was, in the healthiest of times as well, and he didn’t sweat that either.
Nothing had changed, and everything had changed. What on the surface is the comeback of old Channing Frye, a success story increasing by the day, is actually more like the early look at the new Frye, the one altered by having to contemplate serious health issues and forced to miss an entire season from the game he loves.
“It changed me for the better,” he said of the health scare. “I’m just a lot more relaxed about things. I’m more mature about things. I see the bigger picture. I’m a lot more appreciative of just everything. It’s like, you’ve got to see the bigger picture. We have an awesome job. This is my job, to go play basketball in front of 15,000 people every night. It’s awesome.”
The original scare of heart troubles at such a young age was replaced by a determination. The times when Frye wasn’t sure he would make it back to the NBA, when it took the encouragement of family and friends to stay positive, were replaced by a passion to play again. He decided, bottom line, he was not done with basketball yet and would not be driven from the game without at least a final try with the Suns.
Frye told himself, “F— this heart thing,” and then he told his wife. “F— this,” Channing remembers saying to Lauren. “I’m not going out like this.” He wouldn’t risk his life to play, but once doctors in several cities cleared Frye to return, once he successfully completed a battery of tests, once he got past the initial worry, he was in attack mode, not comeback mode.
This is about his heart, all right.
Frye has gone from considering retirement – “Pretty close. You had to think about it.” – to averaging 26.9 minutes, 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 43.9 percent overall and 37.3 percent behind the arc at age 30 as the feel-good story as part of an entire Suns team exceeding expectations.
“He went through all the doctors, he checked with all kinds of specialists,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “When it came down to them telling him he’s fine and he can play then I think we all just accepted the fact that he can play. I’m sure the trainers are on alert if something happens, but we have to go at it as if there’s nothing wrong and there’s no risks. Obviously if he felt there was a risk, he wouldn’t be playing.”
Plus, now he is playing well – Frye has scored at least 16 points in four of the last six games and has made at least half his 3s in the same four of six. He logged 41 minutes in Wednesday’s victory over the Trail Blazers that moved the Suns to 8-7, after playing 33 and 32 the previous two outings.
He is not as rusty as before. He is definitely not nervous.
“No,” the new, changed Frye said. “I’m too calm for that. There’s no anxiety about stuff. There’s no nothing. I just go out there and play. It is what it is. That nervousness, there’s no need for it.”