ATHENS – He was a small kid from a small town and the list of schools interested in him was smaller. When he signed with Georgia, its coach would later recall getting hate mail from fans, wondering why they signed a 5-foot-9, two-star recruit that no other major-conference school wanted.
James Frazier Jr. – his name was shortened, appropriately, to J.J. – was aware of all this. So when he arrived in Athens four years ago, there was at least one goal in mind.
“I wanted to show them that coach is right,” Frazier said.
Vindication did indeed come for Mark Fox, who took a flyer on Frazier and has seen him become one of the best players in recent Georgia basketball history.
“That’s my guy. He took a chance on me,” Frazier said Tuesday, on the eve of what is scheduled to be his final game at Stegeman Coliseum. “Me proving him right, proving everybody else wrong, is just moreso for the fact that I don’t want him to feel like he wasted a scholarship on me. Especially a two-star coming out of south Georgia that was 120 pounds coming out of high school. That gave me a lot of motivation, and I’m glad for the opportunity he gave me.”
Frazier may be exaggerating a little. He was listed at 160 pounds coming out of high school. But he’s also dropped five of those since then, according to the media guide, though he’s added an inch.
It just doesn’t seem like it when you’re standing next to him. How slight does Frazier look? A couple weeks ago before the Kentucky-Georgia game, he walked from the parking deck across the street to Stegeman Coliseum, and no one stopped him or even seemed to notice him. He just fit in the crowd.
But this is the man who now stands fourth in the SEC in scoring, at 20.6 points per game, and is carrying Georgia (17-12 overall, 8-8 in the SEC) as it tries to keep its NCAA hopes alive, despite the injury to leading scorer and rebounder Yante Maten.
Asked now, Fox claims there was no major debate, inward or outward, on whether to sign Frazier. He decided to offer him after the first time he saw Frazier play, during his junior year at Faith Baptist High School. The game was against older, bigger players, and Frazier scored around 26 points in the second half, leading his team back from about 12 points down to victory.
“I knew that night I was going to offer him,” Fox said. “I saw he had great shooting range. He had great speed, the ability to change speeds, to play at all levels. And I thought he was tough enough to play at his size.”
OK, so Fox was right about offering Frazier a scholarship. But did he have any idea he would be this good?
“He’s been probably better than anybody thought, including ourselves,” Fox said. “We thought he’d be a good player. But statistically what he’s done has been remarkable.”
- Frazier is five points away from tying Shandon Anderson for seventh on Georgia’s all-time scoring list, and 147 away from No. 6 Bob Lienhard.
- He’s fifth all-time in assists, trailing fourth-place G.G. Smith by 33.
- He’s 10th all-time in steals, 10 away from Rashad Wright and Chris Daniels, who are tied for eighth.
- Frazier ranks fourth all-time at Georgia in free throws made, 145 behind third-place Litterial Green ranks fifth all-time at Georgia in made 3-pointers, trailing fourth-pace Kenny Gaines by 16.
After a somewhat underwhelming first half of the season, Frazier is now being talked about as an SEC Player of the Year candidate. That will probably end up going to another senior guard, South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell, but Frazier will at least push for first-team All-SEC: He ranks fourth in the SEC in scoring, fifth in assists and three in steals.
Frazier’s flare for the dramatic also stands out: He hit the game-winning free throws to beat LSU last Saturday, after going the length of the court in just under four seconds to draw the foul. Two days earlier, he hit big shots and free throws down the stretch to beat Alabama. And the list of similar heroics goes on.
After the win over LSU, Fox cracked that he wished he had kept the hate mail he got for signing Frazier. Asked to clarify on Tuesday, Fox said he literally got mail saying, “Why are you signing this guy?”
“Usually that goes right in the garbage anyway,” Fox said. “He was unusual because he wasn’t very big, and he’s from a small town in south Georgia, no one ever really saw him, and just because he’s from a small town doesn’t mean he shouldn’t get the same chance everybody else gets.”
Even Frazier’s new teammates at Georgia had to take a second glance. Kenny Paul Geno, now a fellow senior, remembers seeing Frazier for the first time at a freshman seminar.
“I remember looking at him: They weren’t lying when they said small,” Geno said, laughing. “Five-10, I don’t even know if he’s 5-10. But he plays a lot bigger than 5-10. It really is amazing.”
Now, Fox said he’s gotten messages from “Hall of Fame” coaches at both the college and NBA level praising his senior guard. Frazier himself said that “five or six” opposing coaches have stopped him after games to say something that stuck out with him.
It’s all very nice. It’s all very vindicating. But Frazier said he didn’t come to Georgia with any expectations, or any specific goals for stats or awards.
“I wanted to be the best player I could possibly be,” he said. “I feel like I am.”