Matt Fraschilla has strong ties to both the coaching industry and the Harvard basketball program. He is the son of long-time coach Fran Fraschilla, who coached at Manhattan, St. John’s and New Mexico. His brother, James, is currently an assistant coach in the G-League.
Matt played four years with the Crimson from 2013-17 and was part of back-to-back Ivy League champion teams in 2014 and 2015. After graduating, he spent five seasons with Villanova before returning to Cambridge, Mass.
The Dallas native uses these relationships and experiences in his coaching career.
He recently spoke with Mid-Major Madness’ Ian Sacks. Below is their conversation:
Ian Sacks: What is it about Harvard that drew you there as a player in the first place and then coming back as a coach?
Matt Fraschilla: Two things, really. One, obviously, Harvard, the brand just speaks for itself. It’s a global brand. You can go to any corner, any pocket of the world and mention the name Harvard, and people are going to know what it is. It obviously has a great reputation. So, it’s hard to beat that.
And then the second reason is that our head coach, Tommy Amaker, is not only one of the best coaches, but one of the best people anywhere in our business. He’s the true epitome of leadership qualities. He’s a connector. He’s someone who really invests in his players on and off the court.
I felt that as a recruit. I felt that as a player. Now I get to see that from the coaching side. Truly, I couldn’t ask for a better mentor than him. Between Jay Wright and Tommy Amaker, I really hit the lottery as far as people to model a coaching career or coaching philosophy after.
IS: They’re definitely two of the best names in the business. How is your experience now with Coach Amaker different as you’re on staff with him compared to when you were playing for him?
MF: It’s funny because it’s very similar, but at the same time your approach to things is very different. When you’re a player, you don’t see the whole deck of cards.
As a coach, you know all the reasoning behind the decisions and all the kind of moving parts that factor in decision-making. So seeing it from the player side and then coming in as a young guy, having a good relationship with Coach Amaker, there’s a balance there. Knowing how he likes things done. I’m a young coach, but I feel like I’ve got a good grasp on the game and on things like that.
You have to know how your head coach thinks. It’s not about what you’re comfortable with. It’s about what he’s comfortable with. So, knowing what he likes and doesn’t like, and knowing when to speak up, speak your mind, and then knowing when to shut up, there’s always a balance.
So, it’s good because Coach Amaker and I have a great rapport. He gives me and gives our staff the freedom to speak our minds and speak up in meetings and on the floor. He wants us to be heard from, but at the same time, you know you’re going with what he says at the end of the day. He always has a great feel and a great pulse of what needs to be done.
It’s been really cool just to kind of see a different side of him and be kind of more of a partner of sorts rather than a subordinate as a player.
IS: Did you always envision that coaching was going to be your career path?
MF: When I was younger, meaning like in middle school, high school, just growing up around it with my dad and my brother, it was always something that I thought I could see myself doing.
When I got to Harvard, I saw everyone around me was doing internships at Goldman Sachs and on Capitol Hill, Facebook and Google. And I was like, ‘Maybe I should maybe I should look at some of this stuff, you know, I’m at Harvard. I might as well parlay that into one of these kind of things that everyone else around me is doing, you know all my peers.’ I have a lot of friends that are very successful and have gone on to do great things.
What really was probably the turning point for me was my junior year, it was kind of my first year where I thought I was going to really be a rotation player. I tore my ACL the second game of the year, and it kind of was like an inflection point for me.
It was the first time I haven’t been able to lean on basketball in my entire life. I thought ‘What does this mean for me? What does this mean for how I feel about everything?’ And it drew me even closer to the game. You know, I just realized how much I missed it.
I was still around. I was on the team. I was around practice every day. I was around the staff. But just not being able to play, I had to find other ways to contribute. And that was taking our starting point guard, who at the time was a freshman, taking him under my wing and spending more time with the staff, watching some more film.
I realized this is what I want to do. I can’t stand to be away from the game. This is kind of my passion. That was sort of what drove me to make my ultimate decision of wanting to coach.
After that, I spent the summer before my senior year working a lot of camps, trying to get as much face time with people as I could. I worked at Will Wade’s camp at VCU, Chris Collins’ camp at Northwestern. I worked at the Under Armour Steph Curry Camp in California.
I worked a bunch of different stuff to try to get face time with people in the business. And it was some connections that I made throughout the process that kind of ultimately led me to having some options for GA positions and then ultimately ending up at Villanova.
IS: Where did that love of basketball first start for you?
MF: For as long as I can remember, I grew up around a gym. My earliest memories were when my dad was coaching in St. John’s, and I was four. Guys like Ron Artest were around, and they’re playing at Madison Square Garden or Carnesecca Arena. I just remember always being in a gym, no matter where it was, I always felt like I was around it.
I like to think I had a choice, but it’s like nature versus nurture. I just felt like it was something where every day was something around the basketball gym. I looked up to my dad. I looked up to my dad’s players.
And then when he got into working at ESPN, I got to go to a lot of great, really cool events with him, going to practices, going to Thanksgiving tournaments and kind of being behind the scenes and seeing how college basketball programs operated.
So, it always was in the back of my mind. I never thought I was going to be a professional basketball player, but I just had love for the game and a love for watching, when I was younger, guys that I felt like I could emulate.
Obviously, Steve Nash was probably the ultimate example. But even guys like, you know it’s funny, because I worked with him, watching Mike Nardi on TV on those great Villanova teams in the mid-2000s, Kendall Marshall, Gerry McNamara. You know, guys that I was like, ‘Hey man, I play like these guys. I want to be a college basketball player.’
IS: Steve Nash, definitely one of my favorites as well. Wanted to get you to expand a little bit more on your father, Fran, a great coach in his own right and great broadcaster as well at ESPN. How much of an impact has he had on your life?
MF: It goes without saying. Not only has he been a great mentor, but he’s probably my best friend, because we talk every day. We both pick up the phone and just talk about whatever. But there’s always going to be some talk about how to attack a pick and roll coverage or how to triple switch off of different matchups, things like that.
Just having him around, he’s a wealth of knowledge. He’s a lifelong learner. He hasn’t coached in 20-plus years, but there’s not a day that goes by that he’s not learning something new about the game. So, he’s an inspiration. His path is something to emulate. He’s accomplished things that I want to accomplish in my life.
Also, just the way that he prepares. He’s extremely disciplined at his job, coaching and now in television. There’s never going to be an event or a game or a clinic or a camp that he shows up to that he’s not the most prepared person in the room.
So, being able to watch him, his attention to detail and his discipline of his craft is really inspiring for me. And it’s kind of a trait that’s been passed down to my older brother, who has coached in the NBA and the G-League for a while and now to me just watching him. I have a long way to go, just a lot of basketball to learn.
He’s been such an influential figure, just encouraging me and like I said, a wealth of knowledge that I can tap into at any time. I recognize how fortunate I am to have that.
IS: What is your relationship like with your brother, James, who is following in the same professional footsteps as you are, following your father?
MF: It’s great. We’re very close, but we both sort of understand the grind. He’s kind of pursuing the NBA path, and I’ve been in college. I like the college game as a fit for myself.
It’s funny because our schedules are so crazy that it’s sort of understood that we don’t need to talk every day. So, we’re not constantly calling each other or we’re not constantly texting each other like some brothers would, but we know when we call, we pick up the phone, we talk some hoops, different things.
It’s fun to watch him because in a different way, he’s really, really good at what he does, especially as a player development guy. He’s worked out with some of the biggest names in basketball, whether it’s Trae Young or Pascal Siakam or Buddy Hield, guys that he’s had his hands on and been able to work with and help get better.
It’s been fun to watch his journey. It’s a different journey than my own. We’re pursuing two different things. But the love of the game and the love of the craft and the day-in and day-out sweat equity that you put in. He’s someone that I look up to because I think he’s just got a ton of respect in his world in the NBA, and I kind of want to have that same respect level from myself in college as far as being a grinder, being a worker like he is.
IS: You got your career started at Villanova as a grad assistant and video coordinator. What was your experience like there and what were some of your biggest takeaways?
MF: My first year there, it was a team that had Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall, Collin Gillespie, Phil Booth, Omari Spellman. So, it was hard to walk into a better situation as a first-year GA and first year coaching.
I got to see what it looked like when it’s done at the highest level possible. In my opinion, it’s one of the greatest college basketball teams of all time and obviously, a first ballot Hall-of-Fame coach, all three assistant coaches on that team went on to be head coaches. So, that was about as good as it gets as far as a situation to walk into. I was extremely lucky to be able to witness that and be a part of it.
But just to be there for five years, five really successful years, and not just the wins and losses, it was learning how to coach, learning how to be a teacher. Coach Wright was a lot of things but none better than how good he was at teaching: the details, the littlest things, how to hold people accountable. Everything that we did there was predicated on accountability and discipline.
To be able to watch, not just how he coached the players, but how he coached the staff, how the assistants coached the DOBO, and the DOBO coached the video guy, and the video guy coached the GAs, and the GAs coached the walk-ons.
It was so connected, and it was so uniform. Everyone was on the same page and knew exactly what it looked like, and as we would say, what it meant to be a Villanova basketball player or Villanova basketball team.
Being able to sit there and watch Jay Wright for five years and the staff that we had, it was like getting a Ph.D. in basketball. It was phenomenal.
IS: What were some of the highlights of being able to work alongside and under Coach Wright?
MF: It was great because he had a way of making everybody feel valued in different ways and empowering his staff. Guys had voices to speak up, and our assistants did a great job mentoring me.
George Halcovage III is now the head coach at Buffalo. Kyle Neptune took over for Coach Wright. Ash Howard, Dwayne Anderson, Mike Nardi, all these guys were so demanding but never in a demeaning way. Everything had to be done right because that was the standard. And it all started with Coach Wright.
It was funny because as a GA or video coordinator, if you messed something up, it was never going to be Coach Wright that was getting on you. It was going to be one of the assistants but that’s because he was getting on them, and then they took it down to you. So, you felt the weight of the expectations.
You felt the expectations and standards because it was everybody in the program, from the head coach down to the walk-ons, the managers and whoever else. Everyone was held to the same standard.
That was nothing less than what we talked about as our sort of internal goals and standards and things like that. So, I could not have asked for a better experience. And obviously, basketball wise and success wise, but also just the people there, the quality people that you were around, that you were able to recruit was second to none. It’s a really unique program and university.
IS: One of your responsibilities there was putting out the podcast with Coach Wright. How did that help to build the brand of Villanova basketball?
MF: It was interesting. It was always fun to do that. You don’t think of it. Like you want to be a basketball coach. You’re thinking of X’s and O’s and how can I watch film and work with the players.
But that podcast honestly was such a cool part of my job because you never knew who would be on. We had Randy Foye or when we traveled on the road, we had Jay Bilas on. We’d have people that happened to be in town that Coach wanted to get on the podcast: Josh Hart or Jalen Brunson or whoever it was.
So, you just get to sit there and listen to them. Mike Fratello was on it. You get to sit there and listen to Coach Wright tell stories, hear stories, listen to the guys share some inside stuff that the public doesn’t know about, little stories from road trips or things that on the outside maybe there’s a season that looks like it’s going great but maybe on the inside there was a little bit of turmoil that people didn’t know about at the time and it’s not that funny. But ten years later, you tell the story, and it’s very funny.
So, it was fun just to get to know some of the guests that we had on. Obviously, a lot of Villanova royalty came back to do the show and all that stuff. It was really cool.
IS: What brought you back to Harvard?
MF: When Coach Amaker called me, it was early June last year, and I had the chance to not only be an assistant coach, which was a goal of mine and probably the next logical career step, but to do it at my alma mater, where I had been a part of some successful teams, where I had really invested a lot as a player in the program and really cherished my experience there, it was sort of a no-brainer.
Don’t get me wrong, it was hard to leave Villanova. I have so much love for that place and so many great memories. And I’m still very much in touch with all the people there.
But I just felt if there was ever a place to start my assistant coaching career and be able to recruit and just know the ins and outs of a program right away, to be at Harvard, where I went to school for four years, it was really hard to turn down.
And so when Coach Amaker called, I was really excited. Like I said earlier, to get a chance to invest in a program that you really feel like is home is a unique experience. I’ve had conversations with other coaches that coach at their alma maters. Being able to sit next to Jon Scheyer this summer and have him share some advice about not only working for a coach that you played for but represent your alma mater as well. It’s fun to be kind of a part of a small group of people that get the chance to do that.
IS: How special is it to be in that group of coaching at your alma mater?
MF: It’s awesome. When you recruit, you’re recruiting from personal experience. You know not just all the admissions facts, all of the pamphlets and information about the school. You know what it’s like to live in a dorm. You know what it’s like to eat in the dining hall and make friends. And you know the shuttles that you have to take across campus, what classes to take and what classes to avoid.
You just know things that you can’t tell otherwise. To be able to come in and recruit that way and then also relate to players on a day-to-day level. They know that I’ve been through all the practices that they’re going through right now.
They know I’ve done all the drills. They know that I’ve run all the sprints, the mile runs, and all that stuff. So, you kind of have some built in credibility. And it’s fun to be able to look back and say, ‘Look, man, I was on some really good teams here. This is how it has to be done. This is the standard that we have here.’
You can point up to the Ivy League championship banners that we have and say, ‘Look, I played with some really good players. I’m telling you. I know you’re 18, 19 years old. You think you know everything. But there were guys that were in your spot, and they had to figure it out, too.’
So, it’s fun. It’s really cool to be in that position and be able to help these guys that were in the same spot I was in seven or eight years ago.
IS: What are some lessons or insights that you try to instill in your players?
MF: This is one of the things I learned at Villanova I’ve learned throughout my career. There’s a lot of players coming out of high school that don’t know what they don’t know. So, they think they’re going hard or they think they have the right footwork or the right technique. You have to teach them that everything that you do every day, whether it’s positive or negative, is just reinforcing positive or negative habits.
I try to teach the guys how you do one thing — whether it’s just footwork on a catch or being disciplined on technique on a shot fake, or boxing out on one-and-one free throws, and chinning the rebound — all that stuff matters. They don’t always think it does because it’s like ‘Hey Coach, there’s no defender out here. What does it matter if I chin the rebound?’ You have to teach them that all the little things that you do every day add up.
You don’t get to February and play a conference rival on the road in front of a sold-out crowd and just have it show up then. That’s little drops in the bucket every day and doing the right thing on every rep.
There’s a Navy SEAL saying that says, “you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.” That’s been sort of what I’ve tried to instill in our players and try to teach them that excellence is not a one-time thing. It’s an act that you’ve got to complete every day.
IS: That’s a great way to look at it. And I definitely love that Navy SEAL quote that you mentioned. You’ve given me so much. Anything else you could think of?
MF: I’m excited to be a part of the program here at Harvard. I think we’ve done a great job in identifying the right kind of kids to recruit. It’s not just talent. It’s about fit and feel. Do they feel like they can be part of the program?
So just learning how to evaluate recruits beyond just the court and looking into their character and their families and their backgrounds has been something that’s been really eye-opening for me as a young recruiter.
It’s been fun to kind of put the puzzle pieces together. You’re talking to AAU coaches. You’re talking to parents. You’re talking to the opposing coaches in his high school league: ‘Hey, what do you think about this kid? Is he a good character kid?’
Those are the things that I don’t think the general public always thinks about, just kind of the background research. Obviously you hear a lot about at the NBA level with the NBA Draft and sort out how much digging they have to do to protect their investment.
In college, it’s a similar thing. You don’t want to end up making a mistake and taking a kid that doesn’t fit who you are or who your program is.
IS: One more question that I just thought of there with your answer with in terms of recruiting. Do you find it more difficult to recruit at Harvard with the academic expectations of the school?
MF: It’s sort of like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Yes, it’s harder. You have a smaller pool of kids to recruit from because of their academic expectations. But at the same time, you have the best brand in the world as far as higher education goes. Harvard is the best brand in higher education anywhere in the world.
Sure, you’re dealing with the smaller pool and stricter academic expectations, and then in the Ivy League, there are no athletic scholarships, which is another thing that we have to deal with.
But at the same time, I don’t know that I would trade that brand, that ability to walk into any living room in the country and have people know who you are, know what you’re about. Everyone’s going to pick up your call, even if they don’t come to your school. Whether or not they ultimately decide to come to Harvard, they’re going to be interested.
And so yes and no, to answer your question.
Obviously, there are trickier parts or more nuances to recruiting at Harvard than there are, say, at a Power-5 school. But it’s like with great power comes great responsibility. You’ve got a great brand. You have a great head coach. You have a winning tradition. You have seven Ivy League championships in the last 12 years.
I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I think the power that Harvard carries and then specifically Harvard basketball now that Coach Amaker has really built this into a power. It’s a really fun place to recruit because you can really change people’s lives, and I don’t think you can say that everywhere.