Doing play-by-play on Georgia guard J.J. Frazier can be like trying to describe Mardi Gras in 100 words or less. There’s just such flash and color and a deep commitment to the dramatic, how you gonna do it justice?
“J.J. is always going 100 miles per hour,” said Georgia’s radio voice Scott Howard, the man whose job it is to try to keep up.
Take the start of the second half against South Carolina last week.
On the defensive end of the floor, Frazier began a frantic sequence by hurtling the South Carolina bench to save a ball inbounds. As the play went the other way, Frazier picked himself up and began a hurried search for a clearing back to the floor. All he saw were chairs and Gamecocks.
“He needed a stepladder to get over the bench, probably,” joked Bulldogs coach Mark Fox, never one to pass up a chance to gig his guard about his ordinary height (generously listed at 5-foot-10).
There being no Northwest Passage to the court, Frazier opted for the long way around. Sprinting to the end of bench, he made a U-turn without using his blinker and ran the length of the court, largely unnoticed, especially by the defense. Charles Mann found him just in time to swing the ball his way for a three-pointer that gave the Bulldogs a much-needed 13-point cushion.
“That will be a legendary play. Ten years from now he’ll have shot it from behind their bench,” Fox, with knowing smile, said.
Of course, rather than get into all of the specifics of any given Frazier moment, you could simply adopt Mann’s default position on the subject: “That was a J.J.-type play. Doesn’t surprise me.”
As the Bulldogs, 13-8, 6-4 in the SEC, ready for a Tuesday night in Lexington against Kentucky, there is reason to pay some mind to the under-six-foot chap not named Tyler Ulis.
For Frazier is the type of player who gives Georgia a puncher’s chance in almost any contest that is still viable in the last minutes. He is the end-of-game Option A, given both his three-point proclivities (42 percent from behind the arc) as well as his knack for getting to the basket through thickets of long arms and thorny, bad intentions.
Sometimes taking over in the last act pays off, sometimes it bombs. Whatever the result, it won’t be because he is concerned in the least about being an off-the-rack guy in a big-and-tall-man’s game. As his father, James Frazier, said, “I don’t think he ever thought he was small. I think he always thought he was 6-5.”
Coaches, when they put down their tape measures and just look at the product on the floor, can’t help but be taken by the kind of flair a player like Frazier brings to the gymnasium.
“Competition makes (Frazier) better,” Fox said. “He’s a terrific shooter, but he loves to compete. He’s a gamer. When the scoreboard’s on and the game is tight he just gets better and he makes plays. That’s an unbelievable trait to have as a player.”
There are larger themes to Tuesday’s game at Rupp, most notably the Bulldogs dire need to add an impressive road victory to their resume (they are 1-5 away from home, 1-3 on the road in the conference).
But it also is a game that can stand as a needed reminder that every important figure in basketball does not have to duck through the locker room doorway. Georgia comes in with the 155-pound Frazier leading the team in scoring (16.3 points a game), assists and steals. He’s also — take special note here, all you players with the 44-inch inseams — the Bulldogs second-leading rebounder (4.9 a game).
Across the way, Kentucky’s Ulis is one of three finalists (out of 10) for the Cousy Award as the nation’s top college point guard who stand a mere 5-foot-9.
Reached last week by the Lexington Herald-Leader, no less an authority than Bob Cousy himself weighed in on just how much size matters. “Despite the fact that basketball over the years is associated with tall people, for obvious reasons, I’ve always said that size is not what separates the men from the boys. It’s speed and quickness.”
Far be it for Frazier to disagree, siding with the importance of being earnest over that of being tall.
“It has some truth to it. You could be big and not have that heart or be small and have all the heart,” he said.
Fox even mentions certain built-in advantages to being small, citing Frazier’s ability to “play underneath people.”
Being of more common dimensions also plays well in the seats.
Popularity is not quantitative, it is nothing that shows up in boxscore or shot chart. But if there is any doubt about Frazier’s standing in that category, ask radio man Howard. “He’s one of the most fun players I’ve ever seen at Georgia,” he said, loosening up his larynx for the next 100 mph moment.