From playing hoops in Parkchester to coaching basketball in Dubai

Coach Jermelle 'Speedy' Fraser with former NBA player Zaza Pachulia
Photos courtesy of Jermelle Fraser

Parkchester native Jermelle “Speedy” Fraser fell in love with hoops at a young age. While he does not play in the NBA, his basketball acumen has taken him across the globe.

Fraser, 33, was raised by his strict Caribbean mom, Roma Southwell, who cared more about school and books than she did about sports. As a child, basketball was Fraser’s safe haven and allowed him to stay off the violent streets of the Bronx.

“Basketball was something that kept us out of trouble,” he said.

He began playing in fifth grade, but the Bronx resident said that his troublemaking ways temporarily put basketball in jeopardy. Fraser attended Cardinal Spellman High School but was kicked off the team his sophomore year.

However, that roadblock did not deter him from playing the sport he loved. He joined the team at St. Thomas Aquinas College and then transferred to SUNY Maritime.

“For me, basketball was a passion and I never stopped playing,” he said.

In 2011 he graduated from Maritime with a degree in international trade. Though his desire to play hoops was still strong, he realized that a career in the NBA was not an option for him.

As he saw friends who played at St. John’s and Villanova go overseas, he thought he could follow the same route. Fraser served as an assistant coach at Maritime his senior year and after school began training with his mentor, Coach Tom “Tippy” McTernan of Big Apple Sports.

He worked a day job and was attending international tryouts, recalling that nothing was going to stand in his way of playing basketball.

“I still had that passion and that love, so it was something I was trying to chase,” he explained.

He landed his first gig in Kosovo and spent the past seven years on the other side of the globe. Fraser coached or played in Turkey, Spain, Sweden and the Czech Republic and is currently the coach for the NBA School in Dubai.

Fraser told the Bronx Times that being away from his family and friends for so long was a bit of an adjustment at first, but he soon got used to it.

“In the beginning it was tough,” he recalled. “You’re talking about migrating halfway across the world. The best thing about being overseas is connecting with people.”

Fraser stopped playing three years ago and is set on coaching in the college ranks and hopefully at the professional level one day. From 2019 to 2020, he was the assistant varsity coach and player development coach at Montverde Academy in Florida, where he worked with top high school prospects in the country.

According to Fraser, he credited a lot of his success to Tippy, who taught him to work hard and stay focused. He hopes to one day return to Parkchester and be able to give back to his community.

He stressed that whether someone wants to be a coach or player, they should never give up on their dreams.

“I never imagined doing this,” he said. “I always just wanted to play basketball.”

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