SCOTT HARRISON | SPECIAL TO THE MONITOR
A trio of Florida Gators helped the RGV Vipers achieve an NBA G League championship, while a pair of them are now on the 15-player postseason roster for the team’s NBA affiliate, the Houston Rockets.
Chris Chiozzo and Michael Frazier are with the Rockets, but they are expected to see limited playing time in the playoffs as their primary role will be helping the team during practice prepare for opponents. Meanwhile, Walker just completed his third season with the Vipers. He went to the Final Four in college, but says there is no feeling like winning a championship.
“It feels good (winning a championship) and they (Chiozza and Frazier) are just waiting for me to get up there,” Walker said. “I am going to take this summer more serious than I have ever had before. I hope so and praying for (to eventually join the Rockets) because anything is possible.”
Chiozzo signed a 10-day contract with the Rockets on Feb. 22, while playing for the G League’s Capital City franchise. He played four games for the Vipers during that period. He rejoined Capitol City after his contract expired and was signed by the Houston Rockets again on March 23. But at that time he was ineligible to go back to the RGV this past season. He is not surprised the Vipers won a record third league championship recently.
“Just the talent they have and the way they play with an amazing confidence,” Chiozzo said. “They are probably the most confident team I have ever seen and they know they are good, but they use it in a good way. Knowing if we come and play the way we are supposed to play. ‘Nobody can beat us.’ That’s a great attitude to have, but you have to come out ready to play everyday.”
The point guard played with both Frazier and Walker at Florida during the 2014-15 season, which was coach Billy Donovan’s last with the Gators before he left to join the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
“My freshman year was rough because we didn’t have the best year, but my relationship with those guys was great,” Chiozza said. “Frazier was like a big brother when I was down there, as he took care of me and showed me the ropes. Being able to play beside him with the Vipers was fun and like being back in college again.”
Basketball highlights for Chiozzo include leaving the Gators, after four years, as the school’s all-time leader in assists (571) and hitting a 3-pointer on April 2 in Sacramento that was the Rockets’ 26th of the night, tying the team’s single-game record and league record — only to be broken by Houston five days later during a home game against Phoenix. This past season, Chiozzo also placed third for assists and steals over 47 G League games.
Frazier set school records at Florida for 3-pointers in a single game (11) and season (118). He went pro following his junior season (2014-15), when a high ankle sprain, suffered against Kentucky, curtailed his production. He never imaged three Gators have such an impact on one professional basketball team at the same time.
“That was never a thought of mine, but I am happy we are and it’s a testament to the school we were able to attend, play for and the coaching staff,” Frazier said. “It’s a blessing to play for the Vipers and then be called up to Houston. I don’t have any words.”
The Rockets signed Frazier to a minimum NBA contract on April 6 just days after the G League announced he won the Most Improved Player award. Frazier is now excited about his postseason responsibilities with Houston.
“I am ready for whatever because I am going in there to help them win anyway I can,” Frazier said. “Do whatever Coach asks me to do and be a good team locker room guy.”
Frazier and Walker were roommates in college. Walker also left Florida around the same time as Frazier after playing two seasons. He feels Chiozzo and Frazier will be important scout players for the Rockets throughout their playoff run.
“I am just looking to see Mike (Frazier) flourish up there because I know how hard he works and everything he’s been through this season,” Walker said. “We had a big talk before even our first game about everything that has happened to him right now and I am happy for both of them.”
Walker thinks he has matured this past season, controlled his attitude and accepted his role with the team whether it’s playing two minutes or 30 minutes in a game. He has not ruled out returning to the Vipers for an opportunity to help them attempt to win back-to-back titles.