Why drama teacher Brian Frishman gave up the big leagues for the big screen

(Photo used by permission of Frishman)
When Brian Frishman (left) played against UCLA, the basketball powerhouse was rated second in the nation, boasting athletes like David Greenwood, who later made the NBA All-Rookie First Team.

At 6-feet-6-inches, drama teacher Brian Frishman is easy to spot as he towers over most of his actors. But it was his ability, not his height, that made him stand out on the basketball court.

Most students know of Frishman’s acting past (“1941,” “Midnight Madness,” “Savage Streets”), but many  are unaware of his college basketball career (1972-77), when he was putting up big numbers against some of the best teams in the country.

Some of Frishman’s stellar performances in 1976 include scoring 20 against No. 2 UCLA and 32 against No. 1 New Mexico, which included future Hall of Famer Michael Cooper.

Frishman didn’t begin playing basketball until his junior year of high school, after a racist football coach drove him away from the sport, he said.

But he quickly fell in love with basketball’s quick pace.

“I loved leading the fast break,” Frishman said. “It was like being a running back and everybody was chasing after me.”

Frishman spent his first two years at West Los Angeles College, playing in the best junior college league in the country, he said.

And in his freshman year, Frishman was the sixth highest scorer in the state.

His coach at West LA, Charles Sands, was the only competent coach he had during his career, Frishman said.

“Charles was a good disciplinarian and a funny guy,” Frishman said. “He also had a great basketball mind. We played an up-tempo, run-and-gun offense.”

One of Frishman’s favorite games was during his sophomore year against Compton Junior College. Frishman led his team in scoring on the way to upsetting the best team in the state.

“They beat our butts three times in a row before that,” Frishman said. “So it felt great to get revenge.”

But Frishman’s second year was the beginning of what would be a long struggle with injuries, when he developed a blood clot that held him out for a month.

The next step in Frishman’s career was a transfer to Brigham Young University in Utah for his junior season.

He chose BYU because it had a  new arena that housed 19,000 people – the most in the country at the time.

“I liked to perform in front of large crowds,” Frishman said.

After basketball, he would satisfy this urge by performing on the big screen.

Frishman continued to string together impressive performances against ranked teams.

He scored 25 against No. 24 Colorado State and had 27 points and 19 rebounds against No. 18 Arizona.

But once again, Frishman was set back by injuries. This time it was a broken finger, an ankle sprain and a flu that lasted multiple weekends.

Injuries weren’t the only problems Frishman faced at BYU. He was suspended from the last three games of the season after a disagreement with his coach.

The coach was dismissed after the season, and Frishman left Utah, too.

He then opted to take his talents to San Diego State University.

The Aztecs were an attractive choice because he had friends at SDSU and missed Southern California, he said.

But because Frishman had transferred from a D1 school, he had to sit out a year before resuming play. (The rule is to discourage athletes from transferring.)

(Photo used by permission of Frishman)
In the game against UCLA directly following his redshirt year, Brian Frishman (with ball) scored 20 points against Marques Johnson, a five-time All-Star.

His first game back in December of 1976 was against his childhood-favorite team, No. 2 UCLA. That’s when Frishman scored 20 points against one of the premier teams in the nation.

Despite early success, Frishman’s year was very up and down. He played with torn cartilage in his ribs and knee, which left him playing at 70-percent ability.

However, one of the highs of the season – one of Frishman’s favorite games – was a loss against No. 4 University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

In the fast-paced game, both teams scored over 100 points. Frishman contributed a couple fast-break dunks among his 23 points.

With his ability, he had aspirations to make it to the NBA. During his redshirt year at SDSU, Frishman was invited to Lakers camp.

But his big opportunity came at a really bad time, as Frishman received the invitation right after he had four wisdom teeth removed.

“At camp I was really groggy due to my meds,” Frishman said. “Getting elbowed in the jaw also didn’t help my play.”

Frishman was not invited back to camp the next day, which would be his last opportunity  to play professional basketball.

In the beginning of his senior year, Frishman injured his quadriceps femoris. The shredded tendon in his knee hindered his play, but he was still able to play during the season. After the year, though, the damage done from playing through it was extensive.

Doctors offered reconstructive surgery as an option, but they couldn’t guarantee a full recovery, not to mention the risk of further injuring the knee.

“It wasn’t worth the risk,” Frishman said. “I still wanted to be able to ski and surf and walk without any pain.”

Frishman still deals with issues due to his rough playing days. He has had six surgeries on his knees, including two full knee replacements.

However, Frishman said he would have been a solid rotation player in the NBA at best.

With his playing days over, Frishman quickly turned to acting.

“I always wanted to be an actor,” Frishman said. “I wanted the lifestyle and I never wanted a 9-to-5 job.”

So Frishman began taking acting classes at San Diego State. Just nine months later, he was making a living as an actor.

But this wasn’t the end of Frishman’s education.

As an athlete, his grades had been fixed and he had learned next to nothing, he said.

“In college you could do two things outside of playing sports: getting good grades or partying,” Frishman said. “I didn’t choose to get good grades.”

So at the age of  32, Frishman went back to school as a freshman. He received an academic scholarship to Sonoma State University, where he studied English and creative writing. And he earned a full ride to UCLA, where he eventually earned his Master of Fine Arts.

By Adam Dean

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