Oklahoma University basketball walk-on James Fraschilla and former Kansas walk-on Jordan Juenemann aren’t related, but forever will be linked by blood. To say that most friendships start under less brutal circumstances would be an understatement.
This is pretty much how the introduction that planted the seeds of a friendship went late in the KU-OU game on Jan. 7, 2012, in Norman, Okla.: James Fraschilla’s nose, meet Jordan Juenemann’s elbow. Hello blood and hello a return to the bench for both players. Juenemann was whistled with a flagrant foul and taken out of the game by coach Bill Self. Trainers were putting Fraschilla’s face back together, so someone else shot the free throws.
Afterward, it was Fraschilla who felt worse about the play that ended both players’ days in unpleasant fashion.
“I had just come into the game and he had just come into the game,” said Fraschilla, in uniform Saturday with the Sooners for a 3 p.m. tipoff against Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse. “He got a pass on the wing, and I ran into him and closed out. I was so nervous about getting beat on the dribble that I got down real low playing defense. He tried to swing the ball over his head, and I got hit with the elbow. I felt terrible because it was my fault. I was guarding him too close.”
Fraschilla’s father, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, happened to be working the game.
“I’m pretty sure he didn’t even mention my name,” James Fraschilla said. “He usually tries to go the whole broadcast without mentioning my name. I think he pulled out the rule and read it and just referred to me as ‘the Oklahoma player.’”
Juenemann and Fran Fraschilla shared a pleasant post-game chat to ensure nobody thought the play was intentional. Less than a month later, the Sooners visited Allen Fieldhouse and the two walk-ons chatted on the court before official warmups.
“We started messaging each other on Twitter and we’ve kept in touch ever since,” James Fraschilla said. “He’s a real cool guy.”
The two young men share a passion for basketball. Juenemann is working as a graduate assistant on the staff of University of Missouri-Kansas City head coach Matt Brown and is taking classes toward his Master of Business Administration degree. Fraschilla said his goal is to become an NBA coach, starting with a job as a video coordinator.
“How funny is that?” Juenemann said of the genesis of the friendship. “I hit James, gave him a black eye, and I’ve become good friends with Fran and James. That’s how it works. Give a guy a black eye and become friends with him and his dad.”
Juenemann can laugh about it now, but at the time he was on the receiving end of some harsh words from his coach, Bill Self.
“In the heat of the moment, he thought I was trying to score in the last minute and was just too aggressive,” Juenemann said. “After watching the film, he realized it was a total accident. That’s the way the call is now, though. It’s on the player with the ball.”
James Fraschilla will have more than a famous last name — his father was head coach at Manhattan College, St. John’s and New Mexico — going for him in trying to break into coaching. He has extensive experience in putting together videos, a skill that can open doors to entry-level coaching positions. A broadcasting/electronic media major, Fraschilla has worked live productions for ESPNU and has created college basketball videos for ESPN.com.
Two of the younger Fraschilla’s video productions have gained him fame independent of his father’s name, though fame wasn’t his aim. James produced two trick-shot videos, and he’s the one making the trick shots on Oklahoma’s home court, the Lloyd Noble Center. He is adamant that he didn’t use trick photography. He said he really made all the amazing shots and had to make them again, no matter how long it took, if the lighting wasn’t just right.
He made the videos to benefit “Hayden’s Hope,” a charitable organization to raise awareness for pediatric organ donation and to help families cover expenses from organ transplants. ESPNU’s lead anchor, Dari Nowkhah, founded the organization after he and wife Jenn’s third child, infant son Hayden, died of Viral Myocarditis, an infection of the heart.
“People seem to enjoy them,” James Fraschilla said of the videos. “I’m not trying to make them about myself. I’m doing it to give exposure to a good cause. I got a few emails from people saying, ‘I enjoyed the video and just made a contribution to Hayden’s Hope.’ It was pretty cool getting those emails. I feel like I made a significant impact.”
And he made the impact in a creative, entertaining way, by making improbable field goals, none, to the best of his recollection, on the first take.
Something tells me this kid will have the perseverance to attain his lofty goals. He already has shown he can withstand inevitable occupational hazards everybody faces. Who knows? One day, he and Juenemann might even work on the same coaching staff. Both young men liked the sound of that scenario.