Ashanti Frazier likes to smile on the court.
Whether she is smiling at a teammate making a good play or a joke cracked on the way to the free throw line, Frazier’s teeth are often on display on the court.
And why not?
Frazier loves the game of basketball, loves playing with her teammates at Newington and even loves a little friendly banter with opponents.
But what makes her smile more than anything is winning, and over the last two seasons, Newington has done a lot of winning.
The team is currently 10-2 and ranked No. 4 in the GametimeCT Girls Basketball Top 10 poll.
This is coming off a season where the team went 17-3, reaching the Class LL quarterfinals.
“This team is my family,” Frazier said. “We do everything together on the court and off the court. Even if we are losing and something funny happens, I am just smiling because I know my team and if we are down, we aren’t going to be down for too long. The better the opponent and more smack talk going on, I get 100% locked in. I play like that all the time.”
Newington has a talented roster of scorers and role players, but make no mistake, Frazier is the catalyst to success.
Frazier handles the ball like it is on a string and can penetrate defenses off the dribble, going to the basket to score, dishing to a post player or kicking it out to one of the several options Newington has for 3-point shots.
She also can fire from beyond the arc, knocking down 3s of her own.
“She is a crafty guard. I have not seen many guards in Connecticut high school basketball who can get to the hoop like she can,” Newington coach Marc Tancredi said. “The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Ashanti is competitor. She is the ultimate competitor.”
That competitiveness comes out the most on the defensive end of the court, where Frazier takes pride in locking up her man and hitting the glass and securing rebounds.
Through 10 games, Frazier is averaging 15.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.1 steals per game.
In the second quarter of a 50-49 win over then unbeaten East Catholic, Frazier scored her 1,000th career point.
She is doing all of that while being the primary focus of every defense Newington faces.
Frazier can light up opponents at any time, but she has shown a knack for clutch shots in game-winning moments.
“She has hit some big shots for us. Big players make big plays and she has done that,” Tancredi said. “She hit a buzzer beater in the Bristol Eastern game, and against Windsor, she hit a shot in the final seconds to put us ahead.”
As good as Newington was last season, it might be better this year with a bunch of juniors and sophomores with a year of experience under their belts.
Frazier is one of only two seniors, along with Sabrina Soler, who Frazier has played basketball with since the second grade.
“We have amazing chemistry,” Frazier said. “If we do bump heads we immediately apologize and say ‘let’s go get this win.’ Sabrina and I have played together for so long, we always know where the other on is on the court”
The team also has the advantage of moving down from Class LL to Class L this season after the CIAC added a fifth division to the girls basketball tournaments.
Not that Class L is any picnic with No. 1 Notre Dame-Fairfield, Hand, Wethersfield, St. Paul and Windsor among the contenders.
With the goal being a trip to Mohegan Sun for a chance to play for a state championship, Frazier knows what it will take to get there.
“We have to work together. We always say ‘zero miscalculations and 100% communication’ that’s what we need to take care of business,” Frazier said. “We move the ball and that makes us successful. We like to go from ok, to good, to a great pass, then a great shot. That’s who we are as a team. That’s our culture here. We want the best shot, every time down the floor.”
Though the toughest part of the season lies ahead in the CCC and Class L tournaments, Frazier and Newington are hoping to be smiling under the bright lights of Mohegan Sun come March.