Smith: Tribute to a shooting star

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, May 9, 2017

GLENNVILLE – Friends, family, admirers and Bulldog aficionados gathered at Tattnall County High School on Tuesday night to pay tribute to J. J. Frazier, Georgia’s shooting star who electrified UGA’s Coliseum like no other—since Dominique Wilkins put his stamp on basketball in Athens.

It was easy for this community to overwhelm with its efforts to show its affection for a local hero, who is a caring and selfless young man who was raised right, acts right and treats ALL people right.  What more could we expect of this young man who overachieves, triumphs and prevails without ever calling attention to himself.

This factoid you may find interesting:   What does J. J. have in common with Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Napoleon Bonaparte, James Madison, Picasso, Houdini, Ulysses Grant, Lawrence of Arabia, Aristotle, Spike Lee and Ralph Lauren?   J. J. is taller than all of them.

You remember Spud Webb, the 5-7 guard for the Atlanta Hawks?  He won an NBA slam dunk contest.  Listen up NBA, J. J. has as much on the ball as Spud.  You better check out J. J.’s heart.

Driving to Tattnall County from the Classic City takes you down the backroads which allows time for reflection.   Highway 15 ushers you to Sparta to Sandersville to Wrightsville; then 57 to Kite to Swainsboro to Metter to Reidsville to Glennville…..along the way, you are reminded that folks in Smalltown, Georgia know about J. J.  They can close their eyes and hear Scott Howard singing out his name over the air waves as another three pointer arches off his left palm;  and like rolling down a rainbow with alacrity and aplomb, the ball flows into the net.  Another signature moment for the Bulldogs’ shooting star.   When he is on his game, his work becomes poetic.

From Rabun Gap to Tybee Light, from Tallapoosa to Hahira, Bulldog fans love J. J., the man of the trey!  Those without Georgia on their mind, take note, too.  One day my phone rang and the voice on the other line said:  “I have seen some outstanding athletes in my time, but I have never seen a more exciting player that your little guard.  He is amazing, and when he takes over a game, it is a joy to watch.   Such charisma, such a competitor.  I really enjoyed watching him play.”   The caller was former Tennessee football coach Johnny Majors.

Lefthanders or southpaws are always intriguing.   Sandy Koufax, Kenny Stabler.  Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Ty Cobb.   Stan Musial, LeBron  James, Gale Sayers and Reggie Jackson—but not just athletes.  What about this blue ribbon list of port side virtuoso’s.   Alexander the Great was a lefty.  Emperor Charlemagne, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt.   Those of late include Presidents, Georgia Walker Herbert Bush, Bill Clinton and Barak Obama.   You can add to the list, Julius Caesar, Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Freeman and Richard Pryor.

It was a memorable night.  Greg McGarity and Mark Fox were there.  Judge John Ellington was eager to drive down from Tarrytown to pay tribute.  Matt Sellars, J. J.’s high school coach came to announce that Faith Baptist Christian Academy had retired J. J.’s jersey, No. 24.   Governor Nathan Deal was the keynote speaker.  A busy man, the governor was eager to make space on his calendar to participate in the evening.

No organization is more castigated than the NCAA, but it is appropriate that this governing body gets a pat on the back.  The only place the banquet could be held was Tattnall County High School.   The night of the banquet happened to fall in a “quiet” period, which meant that a wavier had to be granted so Mark Fox could attend.

When Mayor Chris Roessler wrote a sensitive letter to the NCAA, informing the organization the only place big enough to hold the event other than Tattnall County High would be Savannah which is an hour way, the NCAA granted the wavier.   Let’s hear it for J. J. and his hometown, but let’s offer a round of applause to the NCAA.    J. J. Frazier Day will be forever memorable for a deserving Bulldog athlete, his family and his friends.

The affair ended at dusk.   You could hear a whippoorwill in the distance, its mournful sounds signaling that the day had ended.  But a new day is beginning  for J. J. Frazier whose life will resonate in some community where his good works will always make someone else’s day.

Loran Smith is an athletic director at the University of Georgia.