ATHENS – I was talking to co-worker Seth Emerson about Georgia basketball the other morning and he asked me if I was going to “J.J.-palooza.”
But “of course,” I told him. Wouldn’t miss it.
“J.J.-palooza” was Seth’s joking way of referring to Georgia’s annual Senior Night celebration tonight. Frazier is the Bulldogs’ star point guard and, understandably, is drawing a disproportionate amount of attention for that event, which will take place this evening before the Bulldogs’ final home game of the season against Auburn (6:30 p.m.).
Granted, UGA has three other senior players who will be participating in that annual rite of passage. Kenny Paul Geno, Houston Kessler and Brandon Young also will be feted in pregame ceremonies. But let’s be honest, it’s the little guy with the big game that is going to command all of the attention.
Before I get to Frazier, let me first say this: In no way do I intend to downgrade the contributions of these other three seniors. I’ve been around sports long enough, as a participant and a paid observer, to realize that every one of these young men plays an equally important role in the overall team function. They’re at practices and workouts with the same regularity, attend all the meetings, take all the classes and generally work as hard as the guys who are logging all the minutes every night. That extends to managers and trainers, for that matter. They deserve to get recognition on this occasion and they’ve made their university and their parents proud.
That said, Frazier has been a uniquely fascinating player to watch over these last four years. He’ll leave as one of Georgia’s greatest players ever. And, for me at least, one of my personal favorites.
Emerson details Frazier’s statistical accomplishments and contributions in a story he posted on DawgNation yesterday. Notably, Frazier will leave UGA among the top six players all-time in career scoring, and possibly top five, depending on how long the Bulldogs are able to extend this season. That’s barring injury, of course. He enters tonight’s game with 1,512 points.
And you’ll also find Frazier among the top 10 in assists (5th), steals (10th), free throws made (4th) and 3-pointers made (5). Independently, these statistical categories all provide a good measure of proficiency in certain disciplines of guard play. When you’re among top 10 in all of them, that takes it to another level.
But the area that Frazier is probably best in, I can’t find any tangible measure. That is, clutch play.
I’ve seen a lot of clutch players for Georgia over the years, but few as consistent as Frazier as far as executing when the game is on the line as the clock ticks down. Remember his play to knock out South Carolina from the SEC tournament last year? We saw that again in vivid illustration last Saturday when Frazier received an in-bounds pass and dribbled the length of the court to draw a foul under the basket and make the winning free throws in an 82-80 win over LSU.
Those were Frazier’s 28th and 29th points of the night. Everybody in the arena, including LSU coach Johnny Jones, knew Frazier was going to get the ball. Yet they still couldn’t stop him.
Afterward, Georgia coach Mark Fox joked that he wished he saved all the hate mail he got when he signed Frazier. Fox is probably exaggerating about “hate mail,” but there were more than a few folks who questioned the Bulldogs for signing the 5-foot-nothing, 150-pound guard out of tiny ol’ Glennville, Ga.
I’ll admit it. I was one of them. I was one of the cynics who viewed Frazier’s acquisition with a good bit of skepticism. I mean, I don’t know much about basketball recruiting, but I heard enough second-hand from the people who supposedly do, and they were all saying of that Frazier was “tiny,” even smaller than the 5-10 listed for him at the time. There was no way, it was reasoned, he could compete with the big, strong guards of major-college basketball.
I’ll tell you when that narrative changed for me. On Jan. 24 of 2015, I was assigned to cover the Bulldogs’ game against Mississippi State in Starkville that Saturday afternoon. I went there with the expectation of writing about Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines, Marcus Thornton or Nemi Djurisic, who were kind of the four horsemen of that NCAA Tournament-bound team that year.
But instead I wrote about one of the most incredible individual performances I’d witnessed by a Georgia player in all my years covering the team. He scored 37 points on 12-of-14 shooting that afternoon, and added 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals to boot. And the Bulldogs needed every one of them as they pulled out a hard-fought 72-66 road win in a game when those other four guys combined for 24.
That proved to be any anomaly that season, but not for Frazier’s career. He has scored 25 or more points in 14 games over the last two seasons. You may have heard about that 36-point effort a little over a week ago against Kentucky.
In fact, Frazier has averaged 31 points in the three games since previous leading scorer Yante Maten went down with a knee injury two minutes in against Kentucky. We’re almost left to wonder, maybe Frazier wasn’t trying to do enough before.
By the way, that Mississippi State game was the first time I saw Frazier rush in and rebound his own missed free throw. He got fouled that and made the subsequent extra foul shots. Versus LSU this past Saturday, Frazier put back his own miss in midair. Quick’s not strong enough a word.
We also must keep in mind that Frazier didn’t play all that much his first season. A lot of these guys that Frazier is listed alongside started from the get-go. Frazier didn’t start a single game and averaged only 10 minutes in the ones he played as a freshman.
In any case, it got me to thinking about Georgia’s best players of all time and where Frazier might fit in. This is where you readers might be able to help me out some.
Without question, Dominique Wilkins is the Bulldogs’ greatest of all time. Appropriately, the collegiate hall of famer is the only one with his number retired. But skipping past the first half of the last century, I’d have to say I’d probably include Frazier among my top 10.
There are a few I’d have to place ahead of him besides Wilkins. Certainly the late Alec Kessler, player of the year, on the 1990 SEC championship team. And probably Kessler’s teammate Litterial Green, who was known to light it up now and then as well. I still think Vern Fleming might be the greatest overall guard Georgia’s had, because he did so many things so well. Jarvis Hayes was fantastic, and so was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, though the Bulldogs could never seem to win big with KCP in the fold. It would’ve been great to see what Cedric Henderson could’ve done had he been able to stick around longer than a season.
I’ll say this, J.J. Frazier is the best to ever where number 30 jersey for the Bulldogs. And if he continues to play at the torrid pace he is presently and somehow carries Georgia into NCAA tournament play, maybe they’d consider retiring that number, too.
Hey, it’s a stretch, I know. But so was signing Frazier.