The little guy from the small school gave Georgia some big minutes when it needed him the last time out.
J.J. Frazier, listed perhaps generously at 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, is a freshman point guard from Faith Baptist Christian Academy.
“When I first saw him, I just knew he had to be quick,” senior center Donte’ Williams said.
Then he saw him on the court.
“He was quick,” Williams said. “He can shoot the ball and he can shoot the ball with range. He can handle the ball.”
Faith Baptist Christian is about 55 miles southwest of Savannah and boasts an enrollment of no more than 185 students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Frazier, who goes by J.J. because he’s James Jr., scored more than 2,400 points, had about 900 assists and more than 500 steals at the school in Ludowici, where he started playing as a 5-2 eighth grader.
“It’s a different level of playing hard,” Frazier said. “The way I played hard in high school was good enough, but in college you have to take it up another level. I didn’t really understand the difference.”
Frazier’s minutes had dropped off since early in the season while coaches had been on him to step up his effort.
He logged a total of five in Georgia’s first three Southeastern Conference games, and was surprised to play a season-high 17 in an overtime win over Arkansas Saturday, including the final 5:31 of regulation when starter Charles Mann had four fouls.
Frazier scored five points, had four rebounds and an assist — feeding Kenny Gaines for a one-handed jam — while not committing a turnover.
That’s the kind of instincts Georgia coach Mark Fox saw in Frazier in high school when he committed in February 2012.
“J.J. stopped, gave a little head fake to the defender and shoveled it off,” Fox said.
The last scholarship player at Georgia that wasn’t taller than Frazier was G.G. Smith, the 5-10 son of then coach Tubby Smith, who played for the Bulldogs from 1996-99.
There are no scholarship players in the SEC listed shorter than Frazier and he’s 13 pounds lighter than any other.
Players shorter than 6-feet are making their contributions.
South Carolina, which visits Georgia tonight, starts 5-11, 172-pound Brenton Williams.
LSU’s Andre Stringer (5-10, 190) is second among active SEC players with 1,156 career points.
Auburn starts Tahj Shamsid-Deen (5-10, 163), a freshman from Decatur who averages 8.2 points and is third in the SEC in assist/turnover ratio (2.5)
“There were a lot of big-name, high-level schools that kind of messed around with Tahj in terms of his recruiting,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said, “but I think his size kept some of them from going all the way in, but I’ve never been a guy that looked at how big a guy is. It’s not how big you are in terms of height, weight, it’s how big you play.”
Frazier, averaging 2.3 points and 0.9 rebounds per game, lists former NBA great Allen Iverson, a 6-footer, as the player he emulated growing up.
Forward Brandon Morris still serves as the backup point guard to Mann at times.
Mann is averaging 35.5 minutes per game in SEC play, but was in foul trouble against Arkansas and Fox turned to Frazier.
“It’s kind of match-up driven,” Fox said. “J.J.’s like all freshmen. There’s a lot of things he doesn’t do as well as we want them done, but he’s made some progress.”
On Saturday, Frazier matched up with 5-10 Kiko Haydar, who came to the Razorbacks as a walk-on, but gave up a pair of 3-pointers guarding Fred Gulley III, who is 6-2.
“Playing hard will cover up those mistakes and I fell asleep a few times,” Frazier said. “I overhelped a few times which I shouldn’t have, but that comes with being young, trying to do too much.”
Frazier was 0 of 6 from the floor, including 0 of 5 on 3-pointers, but Fox lauded his 3-point shooting ability.
“Coach has confidence in me shooting the basketball,” Frazier said. “A lot of people are critical of my shot selection but a lot of times Coach is the one telling me to pull the trigger. I’m confident in my ability to shoot the basketball. I missed a few but the next one I’m confident that’s going to go in.”
SOUTH CAROLINA AT GEORGIA
When/where: 8 p.m. today/Stegeman Coliseum.
TV/radio: SEC-TV/The Ref 960-AM
Records: South Carolina is 7-11. 0-4 SEC; Georgia is 9-7, 3-1 SEC;
Probable starters: South Carolina — Sindarius Thornwell (Fr., 6-5, 206, 12.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg); G Brenton Williams (Sr., 5-11, 172, 11.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg); G Duane Notice (Fr., 6-2, 221, 6.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg); F Laimonas Chatkevicius (So., 6-11, 250, 4.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg); F Desmond Ringer (Fr., 6-9, 255, 3.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg). Georgia — G Charles Mann (So., 6-5, 210, 13.3 ppg, 2.9 apg); G Kenny Gaines (So., 6-3, 195, 11. ppg, 2.4 rpg); F Brandon Morris (Jr., 6-7, 215, 8.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg; F Marcus Thornton (RJr., 6-8, 235, 7.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg); F Donte Williams (Sr., 6-9, 225, 5.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg.
Series: Georgia leads 52-48, including 31-15 in Athens
Last meeting: The Bulldogs prevailed 62-54 in overtime in Athens on Feb. 23, 2013, for their third straight in series.
Season at a glance: South Carolina couldn’t protect a 12-point second half lead in a 75-74 home loss to Ole Miss Saturday. The Gamecocks, still looking for their first SEC win, lost in the nonconference to top 40 RPI teams Oklahoma State and Baylor but also to USC Upstate. Georgia looks to build off its best SEC start since 2007. The Bulldogs begin the day as one of only four teams with one or no losses in SEC play. Georgia outrebounded Arkansas 56-34 in a 66-61 overtime win Saturday. Marcus Thornton is fourth in SEC play in rebounding at 8.5 per game and third in blocked shots with 10.
Noteworthy: Georgia is 8-1 at home, including wins over Alabama and Arkansas in SEC play. … The Bulldogs are No. 49 nationally in field goal percentage defense (40.0). … The Gamecocks have seven freshmen on their roster, including three starters. Thornwell had 24 points and 11 rebounds Saturday. … South Carolina is missing Villanova transfer guard Tyrone Johnson, who sustained a broken foot against Texas A&M on Jan. 15. Johnson is averaging 11.2 points and 3.4 assists per game. … Brenton Williams leads the nation in free throw percentage at 98 percent. … Guard Bruce Ellington, who averaged 11.3 points per game in his college career, is done with basketball after declaring for the NFL draft. … Frank Martin is 21-28 in his second season at South Carolina.
Marc Weiszer: firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/marcweiszer