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At Drexel, two different guards from different places try to extend their careers

March 7, 2014 Columns No Comments

This weekend, Drexel will attempt to prolong a season that began with a lot of promise. It hasn’t quite gone as many had hoped, but two senior guards will try to lead them to a longer season. It is those two guards, who come from different places, who have had different journeys to this point, and who have become like brothers while learning plenty about dealing with adversity, who will try to lead them one last time in the Colonial Athletic Association.

From a basketball standpoint, the backgrounds of Chris Fouch and Frantz Massenat aren’t all that similar. Their careers have been quite different as well, but as teammates they have been a big part of how Drexel has done. Through adversity, they have forged a strong bond that Massenat points out during interviews of both. It is perhaps only fitting that they will finish right next to each other on the school’s all-time scoring list.

“That’s like my brother,” said Massenat, motioning to Fouch, who waited nearby after Massenat waited for him. “Even if we’re not on the court, off the court we’re always together. Being able to be around him, talk to him, there’s knowledge that he’s always got my back and I’ve got his back.”

Fouch was on a lot of people’s radars in high school, which tends to happen when you play for a traditional powerhouse like he did, as he attended Rice High School. He also played on the Gauchos, at the time one of the top travel programs in the talent-rich New York City area. Much was expected of him when he came to college, and the Dragons certainly missed him when he tore his ACL and had to miss his true freshman season, the first of two season-ending injuries he would suffer in college.

Massenat, on the other hand, is from Ewing, New Jersey, right outside Trenton. While New Jersey is a talent-rich state, Trenton is not where the majority of it is found. Basketball in New Jersey has more often been dictated by the New York City suburbs in northern New Jersey. He played for a very good but lesser-known travel program in Team New Jersey ABC, and while he led Trenton Catholic to its first ever Tournament of Champions title – beating one of those northern New Jersey powerhouses in St. Anthony’s in a thrilling title game – he wasn’t on as many radars as Fouch because he wasn’t from an area loaded with talent or playing for a powerful school or travel program.

“As long as I knew I could work hard, I knew I could play with good guys,” Massenat reflected. “I just was always overlooked. I just always kept that in mind and used that as motivation.”

Thanks to the aforementioned injuries, Fouch’s career at the school has spanned six years, meaning he’s been there long enough to see Massenat come and now go with him. He didn’t have an idea that Massenat would have the kind of career he’s finishing up, one where he has become just the second player in school history to score 1,600 points and hand out 500 assists (the other being Michael Anderson, who is their all-time leader in both categories).

“Not at all,” Fouch said when asked if he ever imagined his friend would have this kind of career. “I knew he was a solid point guard, I knew he could make passes, but his jump from freshman to sophomore year surprised me a lot, and he didn’t stop there.”

Head coach Bruiser Flint saw the growth process that needed to take place with Massenat at first. He also saw that the young man probably never envisioned he would have the success he has, and that it can be good and bad for him.

“I don’t think he came in with the idea that, I’m going to be a three-time all-league player, all-rookie team,” said Flint. “I don’t think that was in his makeup at the start. I think it was, I just want to be a good player. In that, he’s become a little better than even he thought himself, but I actually think that’s one of his faults. I want him to be a little more cocky, to say, ‘I am a good player’. But he’s such a nice kid, I don’t know if he’s got it in him.”

Massenat had a fine freshman season, one which saw him pressed into starting duty probably a little sooner than Flint wanted. The incumbent starting point guard had been dismissed from the school during the summer, so he didn’t have the luxury of coming along at a pace. His sophomore year saw a big jump, as he was the runner-up in Player of the Year voting as a result of leading the CAA in assists, assist-to-turnover ratio and three-point shooting. Also, the Dragons won 29 games and were on the verge of the NCAA Tournament before falling in the conference championship game.

It’s easy to think that was only the beginning, as the Dragons had a lot returning on the perimeter. The Dragons were picked to win the CAA the next year, and Massenat was the preseason Player of the Year. But Lee was banged up early and had an uneven season as a result, and three games into the season Fouch went down with a broken ankle, his second season-ending injury. That wasn’t all, but those setbacks were the beginning of what was a tougher season.

Fouch had a decision to make at that point. He could try to come back for a sixth year, hoping the NCAA would grant him the sixth year since he had already redshirted once, or he could decide to move on and play pro ball, which he will have a chance to do. He had to decide if it would be worth coming back for another year.

“It was a real tough decision,” he reflected. “I know I’ve been a good player for Drexel, and I know I would still be a good player. Things always go through your head when you get injured a lot at one place. I wondered if it would be the right thing to for me come back being that I’ve been through so much here.”

Ultimately, he attempted to get the sixth year and got it. With that, Flint had a simple idea for him.

“I just hope and pray that the kid can make it through the year,” Flint said back in October. “He’s one of the great kids I’ve ever had.  This year for him, I told him, you’re going to come back to see if you can make it through the season healthy.  Don’t worry about all the other stuff; let’s just be healthy for the whole season.”

The Dragons again figured to contend with their starting perimeter intact along with some veterans up front. But the early injury to Lee crushed the momentum from a nice start that included a trip to New York for the NIT Season Tip-Off and a win over Alabama. Later, Kazembe Abif went down with another injury, hurting their frontcourt depth. Other players have missed games as well.

With the Dragons slipping from what they did two seasons ago thanks in large part to injuries, Massenat’s name isn’t at the top of the conversation about the best players in the conference despite his play. He knows why that is; he knows that winning and losing are how elite players are measured. And he knows the life lesson in this and other adversity the team, including Fouch, has experienced.

“You’ve got to play through it,” said Massenat. “My last two years, guys have been hurt. You’ve just got to be able to do what you can with what you have, and make the best of it.”

It’s part of the perspective he has on life that has gotten him where he is. He appreciates all the game has given him, and to that end has enjoyed life on the Drexel campus off the court. A good student and charismatic young man, he will get his degree in communications in a few months. He chose Drexel in part because he wanted to be close to home, but not too close, allowing him to be a college kid and for his father to see him play. It’s also allowed him to go back home and be an inspiration for many kids in the area when he talks to them, as he does when he gets a chance. He lights up when talking about that.

“They look at me, there’s not a lot of players where I’m from that go to college and play basketball,” said Massenat.

For his part, Fouch already has his degree in journalism and is in graduate school for sports management. He’s made it through the season healthy and played well. When he’s done playing, he hopes to stay in sports in some manner, and coaching is one possibility.

For now, he and Massenat hope that they can extend their college careers – the ones that began from different places but have merged together – a little longer. That’s one more motivator for each, and for Fouch, who has already had a long career, there’s a clear sense of urgency as he thinks about the end being near.

“I’ve been in college for a while, and it’s hard to imagine that it’s really about to come to an end,” he said. “From now on, I know if I lose, I may not be able to play a college game again.”

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