When Channing Frye was a senior at Phoenix’s St. Mary’s High School in 2001, he won a state championship on the Suns’ home floor. As he returns to Phoenix in 2009, he’s hoping to be a part of movement towards bringing a world championship to that same floor.
The former prep star turned Arizona Wildcat has been a name that has been bandied about the state for over a decade. During his senior year, Frye was named the Arizona Player of the Year by the Arizona Republic after averaging 22 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks a game.
Frye next excelled in Tucson, earning First Team All-Pac 10 honors as both a junior and as a senior. The 6-11 forward/center finished ninth on the Wildcat’s all-time scoring list, third in rebounds and second in blocks before being drafted No. 8 overall in the 2005 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks.
Although Frye may have been far from home, his heart never strayed from the desert. He may have been born in White Plains, NY, but he was raised in Arizona.
Not only is he a Phoenician, but he’s a Suns fan.
“I remember in our neighborhood when Kevin Johnson dunked on Hakeem (Olajuwon),” he said smiling. “Everybody ran out the house and everybody put out that little seven-foot hoop and we started playing dunk ball. Everybody started trying to dunk with their left hand just like KJ did.”
One minute he would be out in his driveway trying to emulate KJ, the next minute he would be attending the same church as him. He would watch Oliver Miller drain a three-ball on TV and then head to the park to see if he could achieve the same result.
His favorite Suns player growing up was Elliot “Socks” Perry, a speedy little guard from Memphis. Frye recalled a story where Perry suffered a concussion and experienced a slight case of amnesia.
The team decided to take advantage of the situation and convince the diminutive guard that he was leading the NBA in steals. By planting that seed in the playmaker’s head, Perry went on to accomplish that feat.
During the press conference introducing Frye to the local media Tuesday, Frye reminisced about how he used to wear his St. Mary’s High School jersey with the utmost pride. But he said that the pride he held then pales in comparison to the feeling he has now about donning the purple and orange.
“Just the way they play and being from here, you always want to play for Phoenix,” he said. “I don’t really have any words for it. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
As cliché as the “athlete returning home” theme may seem to be, it’s really not as common as one would think. Frye was well-aware of that fact.
He pointed out that there was only one other guy he could think of that went to elementary school, junior high school, high school, college and then on to his hometown NBA team: Chauncey Billups. That deal seems to have panned out for the city of Denver.
Frye’s roots go fairly deep in this city. He established the C. Frye Foundation that teaches the youth to create a healthy lifestyle through exercise, nutrition and support systems.
His foundation sponsors a Phoenix-based, high school-aged travel basketball team, despite the fact that he just moved here. Even more telling, his entire family still resides here.
So when all of the other teams began to pursue him as a free agent, Phoenix was the team that he used as the measuring stick.
“None of them (the team pursuing him), in my opinion, were better than Phoenix,” Frye said. “As soon as I heard I was a free agent I said, ‘I hope Phoenix calls just to see what the situation was there and to see if they like me.’”
As elated as he was about Phoenix’s interest, his family was even more ecstatic.
“My mom, dad and grandma were flipping out when I told them that I was going to sign here,” he said. “As soon as I told my mom I was going to sign with Phoenix she started screaming and yelling.”
Although Frye enjoyed the moment with his family, he felt that it was imperative for his own well-being to curb their enthusiasm a tad.
“I had to give them a little speech,” he explained. “‘Look, I’m an adult now, I’m getting married.
“You cannot be over at my house. You don’t need to do my laundry,” he continued. “I’m going to live close to you, but not that close.”
Although he joked about not telling his family where he’ll be living for the next few months, it was obvious that Frye is really enjoying the opportunity to return to his home state. He’s hoping that kids around Phoenix are going to look up to him like he once idolized the Suns of the past.
“Hopefully kids that are watching will say, ‘I want to grow up to shoot like Channing,’” he said.
Let’s hope that droves of children will take to their driveways and imitate the legendary plays of their hometown hero.