Frye Finds His Perspective
Suns power forward Channing Frye has lived a charmed life. After starring at St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix and then becoming a lottery pick after a standout collegiate career at Arizona, Frye struck NBA gold with his hometown Suns.
However, entering his prime and heading into the middle season of a five-year contract with Phoenix, the former No. 8 pick in the 2005 NBA Draft was faced with adversity. Frye was sidelined indefinitely after developing a dilated cardiomyopathy, or an enlarged heart.
The condition was discovered during a screening echocardiogram conducted as part of a routine preseason physical. Although the screening probably saved his life, Frye lost the 2012-13 season.
After a lifetime of tirelessly working every day to improve, he was forced to do something he had never done for a prolonged period of time: nothing.
“It’s my job and I’ve been trained to get better since I was whatever years old,” Frye said. “And now they’re telling me, ‘Don’t get better, don’t do anything and just sit there.’
“It’s like telling a lion to not go eat a broken-legged gazelle. Of course it’s going to drive you crazy.”
And crazy was exactly where Frye was driven in the first couple of months following the diagnosis. For someone who had always utilized physical activity to quiet his mind, the eight-year veteran was restricted to bodyweight exercises until he was medically cleared for anything more.
He would perform sets of push-ups around the house to keep himself sane. But after a while, something clicked inside of him, and he realized he had to address his internal drive.
“I just began to understand that it was better for me to take my time because this was not just for next season, this was for the rest of my life,” he said. “The more work I would do, the further away I would get away from my goal. So I had to learn what I had to do and realize that you’re not just a basketball player, you’re a person. You can do things other than basketball, so don’t be that guy.”
Realizing that he wasn’t going to return this season was the first step. The next was adopting a mindset to deal with that realization.
“I just needed to quiet all of the nonsense because you can talk yourself out of a lot of things,” Frye said. “There is a lot of negativity surrounding this situation and a lot of people telling me that I’ll never be able to come back and that I should be traded. I just need to continue to have hope and know in my heart that I deserve to come back and that I want to come back.”
So Frye began the process of looking inwards. He started meditating at least three times a week.
Instead of jamming out in his car, he kept it silent and started listening for answers. In the past, his happiness was determined by whether he was playing well, how he was shooting and other external factors. Now this ailment had given him the opportunity to reexamine what would determine his future happiness.
“When people say that they appreciate this opportunity I think that sometimes they don’t really,” the Suns’ big man said. “Because someone hasn’t told them that they may die in a week, never play again or never be able to play with their son or daughter.”
Through his introspection, he’s been able to adjust that perspective. While things may not be rosy on the surface, he’s tried to become calm and still internally. Instead of becoming anxious, overthink or try to control a situation that he had absolutely no control over, he looked for the silver lining in his situation.
“I’ve had a lot of time to just look at myself and at the beginning it was kind of tough because I didn’t want to deal with myself and some parts of my personality. I’ve been putting that off to the side and now I need to deal with it up front.”
The Suns’ veteran came to some immediate conclusions. For the first time in his career, he had to confront the idea of not playing basketball for a living.
“Everybody talks about when you’re done playing, but nobody really thinks like that,” Frye stated. “Role players think like that, but I doubt that guys making millions a year really are thinking about what’s going on.”
The next conclusion that he came to was that instead of always looking to the future, he needed to look to today. Although it’s difficult for him, he tries to achieve that mindset through his meditation.
“I had so many things that I would think about, that it was tough for me to just sit there,” he recalled. “But it’s something I’m going to try to get better at because it’s like a muscle. You just have to keep working at it.”
And lastly, he concluded that he’s meant to play again.
“I know that I’m supposed to play again,” he said. “I feel that. And that’s what I have to attach myself to: that hope.”
Since he was diagnosed with his heart condition, Frye hasn’t been permitted to run, let alone hit the court. Besides his bodyweight exercises, the three-point-shooting forward is restricted to practicing yoga three times a week.
This is all coming on the heels of a 2011-12 season that saw Frye enjoy his third-straight season of double-digit scoring and the second-best rebounding average of his career. His blocks-per-game average was the highest of his career and he still managed to shoot 35 percent from behind the arc.
But in order to get back on the court, Frye must continue taking medication that allows his heart to function better, which will also cause it to shrink back to its normal size. He is reexamined by a cardiologist every three months, with his next major check-up in March.
While the season away from the game may force Frye to regain ground physically, he looks at it as a blessing mentally. When he receives his opportunity to get back on the court, he knows that he will be more psychologically fit than ever.
He envisions himself as a calming figure in the locker room, whether times or going well or poorly. He also foresees a few missed shots not shaking his confidence.
“In the system, those are the shots I’m supposed to take and I’ll be doing my job by taking them,” Frye said. “Sometimes I would overthink what I’m supposed to be doing.”
The former lottery pick believes his focus will be stronger and he will be less distracted when he returns.
“With today’s social media, you get people telling you that you suck, that we should trade you, or that you’re too good, you’re awesome,” he said. “There are all of these outside voices, but it comes down to what your coach wants, what is going to help this team and how can I bring it every single day.”
Until he makes his return, fans can find Frye crashing a Suns pregame broadcast, practicing yoga, attending Arizona Wildcat games, hanging with his friends and family, and raising awareness about heart issues with his “One Heart” t-shirts. And he’ll be doing all of that with a perspective he could’ve only learned through a season away from the game he loves.
“I have to deal with this every day,” he said. “Are you going to whine and complain about what you could have had, or are you going to embrace today and be who you really need to be?”
Well, we know which path Channing Frye is going to take.
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