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Monarch Insider No. 17-Frank Hassell

Courtesy: ODU Athletics
         
Release: January 10, 2011
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Jan. 10, 2011

Monarch Insider #17 - Frank Hassell

A gentle giant off the court, Hassell turns into a warrior when he steps on the hardwood

Brendan O'Hallarn Monarch Basketball Insider

If you get a chance, shake Frank Hassell's hand. As the starting center on Old Dominion University's basketball team -- and six-foot-nine and 260 pounds -- Hassell's massive hand swallows yours. But just when you think your metacarpals are going to get crushed, the handshake is soft, almost gentle.

It might be because Hassell is worried about breaking hands he shakes. But there may be something more to it, also.

Off the court, there is no more easygoing, friendly, affable member of the Monarchs than the Chesapeake native. Always quick with a smile or a high-five for a young fan, Hassell seems to love every second of being a varsity athlete. Turn on those stadium lights, however, and something happens to the gentle giant.

"When I go to the court, I kind of try to picture myself as a gladiator. That's how I want to seem," Hassell said. "I like playing physical. I like the bumping. I like the grinding. I like the pushing. I like to walk off the court and feel my lip and there's blood. I don't know why. I'm addicted to that."

A fifth-year senior, Hassell plays a huge role in the Monarchs' success. The polished, skilled, fit player who ODU fans see bang under the boards every game is a far cry from the big, smiling kid who arrived on campus five years ago.

The transformation of Frank Hassell into great player and better person started far earlier. A lot of it came from the large man who sits, arms crossed, five rows behind the ODU bench, watching his boy play ball at every home game.

"I taught him how to be humble and thankful," said his dad, Frank Hassell, Sr. "And he is so humble and jovial and thankful for everything he's had his entire life.

"Playing basketball gives him another opportunity to develop life experiences. He likes the camaraderie with his teammates. But that started for Frank before he started basketball."

Hassell grew up as one of five kids in Chesapeake, with a father who's a parole officer, and a mom (Ethel Hassell) who works with foster children. That empathy and compassion started at a young age.

"My dad's kind of the same as me. Outside of his job, he's a nice job, likes to joke around. He's passionate about his kids. But you see him at his job and he's serious, too," Hassell said. "Both of my parents have degrees, and they told me no matter what I did, I had to get one, too." Hassell will graduate in May with a degree in sociology.

It was Frank, Sr., who recognized the basketball potential in his boy. "My dad saw a vision that I didn't even see. He made me work out, he made me work on my game," Hassell said. Two coaches at Indian River High School helped push him as well, and then after arriving at ODU, the coaching staff and head coach Blaine Taylor have made him the player he is today, Hassell said.

Frank just finished a week where he simply dominated the game from his low post "office." In three wins, Hassell scored 14 points at Towson on Monday, 16 against Northeastern on Wednesday, and finished the week with 18 points against George Mason. Each game he also had at least eight rebounds.

Two coaches who just faced him this week won't shed too many tears when Hassell plays his last game for the Monarchs.

"He's a veteran player. He's been playing this well for quite a while, and he's been a great rebounder," said George Mason coach Jim Larranaga.

Northeastern coach Bill Coen was even more direct. "He's just so big and strong, and he's got good hands. He carves out good position in the low post and it's hard to get around him," he said. "I might even send him a graduation card when he goes."

ODU radio announcer Ted Alexander has a front-row seat to watch Hassell work on the court, then frequently chats with him on radio soon after the battle is ended. He enjoys the contrasting Frank Hassells as well.

"The guy is soft-spoken, but when he goes on the hardwood, it's like he takes off the Clark Kent thing and pulls on the cape," Alexander said. "The position he gets, the balls he comes up with and the toughness he shows, you never think that talking to him, because he's a fun, soft-spoken dude."

A soft-spoken dad who watches every move couldn't be prouder. I saw Mr. Hassell in the moments after his son took over ODU's win against Notre Dame in last year's NCAA Tournament. I wrote at the time that Dad had tears in his eyes.

"I went upstairs, went up in the bathroom and started crying. I was so humbled, and so thankful. He played a hell of game. I thought about that today. I was so happy for my son, and proud that he continues to humble himself. It's a beautiful thing," Frank, Sr., said.

"To go to an NCAA game, and for them to win, and have your child do so well? I have tears in my eyes now, just thinking about it." He said he hasn't missed a game since Frank was playing rec ball. "Being here for four years, is like winning the lottery every game. I guess I'm the richest man in the world."

Hassell has a great relationship with everyone in the Monarchs program, but it's been especially fun to watch him with redshirt freshman center Anton Larsen. They're tall and they love basketball. But that's about all the duo had in common.

That didn't stop Frank from seeking out a friendship with his foreign teammate. "I'm kind of outspoken, and I'm curious about different things. I asked him all sorts of questions about Denmark," Hassell said. "At the same time, I've tried to push him, push him. We'd walk back to the apartment together after practice and talk about things, and we built a little relationship. Now, when I see him succeed in a game, it makes me so happy. He's doing so well."

Hassell plays the role of sarcastic, teasing older brother with Larsen, helping him adjust to the style of basketball in America. And, well, America.

"We play together every day, we always play against each other in practice. We're never on the same team," Larsen said. "He's helped me a lot, with rebounding, basic post stuff."

Larsen said Big Frank also helped him last year when he was new in the United States, helping him get his phone and computer hooked up. And Anton recently experienced Thanksgiving as only the Hassell family can do it. Frank can explain.

"He said he'd never had a Thanksgiving before. So I said C'mon over, we'll eat three different dinners. I took him to my mom's house, ate at my mom's house. I took him to my aunt's house, we ate at my aunt's house. I took him to my sister's house. And by the time he got to my sister's house, he was done."

Brendan O'Hallarn, an employee in public relations at Old Dominion University, writes Monarch Basketball Insider. To see other stories, please see the Monarch Insider website, at http://www.odusports.com/ot/monarch-insider.html. If you would like to share your thoughts about ODU basketball, or have a story you'd like to see Brendan write, contact him at brendanwork@hotmail.com.

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