May 24, 2005
ATLANTA - It took more than a month to play out, but guard Zam Fredrick finally opted not to transfer from Georgia Tech. The 6-0 guard will return for his sophomore season and, if Jarrett Jack remains in the NBA draft, Fredrick could start at point guard.
That's the abbreviated version. The extended version had all kinds of drama; it was a source of frustration for the Tech coaching staff, a power play by Fredrick's father, and an unwanted distraction for South Carolina.
The situation dates back more than two years, when Fredrick was still a prolific high school scoring guard for his dad, Zam Fredrick Sr., the head coach at Calhoun County High in South Carolina.
South Carolina coach Dave Odom hired Ricky Stokes as an assistant before the 2003-04 season. That was a job Fredrick Sr. wanted. When Odom did not hire his father, Fredrick II stopped considering the Gamecocks as a potential destination.
Fredrick ultimately chose Tech, though his father never seemed sold on the idea. Even after Fredrick committed, his dad still was trying to drum up interest from other schools, including Kentucky.
After leading South Carolina in scoring as a high school senior, Fredrick played little as a freshman for the Yellow Jackets. That should not have been a big surprise, with Tech well-stocked at the guard position entering 2004-05. But Fredrick complained at times about his lack of playing time, especially when classmates Ra'Sean Dickey, Anthony Morrow and Jeremis Smith played important roles down the stretch.
Fredrick did work last year. He shed 20 pounds, altering his flabby physique, and learned the point guard position. Starting in January, when the Tech staff became convinced that Jack would not return for his senior season, Fredrick became the favorite to start. He worked exclusively at point guard for the rest of the season.
Tech coach Paul Hewitt applauded Fredrick's effort throughout the season, often including him in answers to questions about the other freshmen.
"The only reason you haven't seen Zam out there is because he has a guy out there in front of him. He's more improved than all of (the freshman)," Hewitt said late in the season. "To come in as a two-guard and have to become a point guard ... He's defending well and passing the ball very well."
Fredrick seemed poised for a bigger role during his sophomore season, but an offseason hiring changed everything. East Carolina hired Stokes as its basketball coach, thus creating another vacancy on the Gamecocks' staff. Fredrick Sr. again showed interest, even publicly courting the position.
This time, many feel, Fredrick framed it even more clearly as a package deal. Take me and get my son, was the basic proposition. Odom, to his credit, again drew a clear line between the issues. He never, it seemed, had much interest in hiring Fredrick Sr.
Fredrick Sr., who did the majority of the talking for his son throughout the process, announced on April 11 that his son was leaving Tech, calling his decision to attend the school "a mistake." The next morning, Tech issued Fredrick's release.
"It was a situation where we didn't feel Zam and the coaching staff were on the same page," Fredrick Sr. said. "We feel like (South Carolina is) the best place for him."
Interest in Fredrick was limited. Only a handful of schools, largely from smaller Division I programs, called Tech to inquire. Within weeks, Fredrick was telling the Tech staff that he wanted to return, although the player sounded torn between Tech and USC in a May 5 interview with The State newspaper in Columbia.
"There are some days I'll think about it one way, and other days I'll think about it another way," Fredrick said. "I've got to make my next move be my best move."
In the same interview, Fredrick downplayed Jack's decision to enter the NBA draft as a determining factor.
"What he's doing," Fredrick said, "has nothing to do with what I do."
Fredrick Sr. continued his push to have his son follow his path - to South Carolina. While playing for the Gamecocks, the father once led the NCAA in scoring.
"I was disappointed when he didn't go to USC (originally)," he said. "I always envisioned him in garnet and black."
At the same time, the Tech staff insisted that Fredrick's private comments were much different. He reiterated to them that he wanted to return. Nevertheless, Fredrick visited Odom in Columbia on May 8, in a meeting that lasted about 90 minutes. Odom made no promises to Fredrick, asking only that the player decide what he wanted to do before talking with him again.
The Tech staff did not know about the meeting until reading about it in newspaper accounts. Hewitt was annoyed. He felt the situation had been resolved, and now Fredrick was meeting with another coach.
After the meeting, Fredrick again told Hewitt he was planning on returning. But Hewitt seemed ready to move on if the situation continued. He began hinting that Fredrick might not be welcomed back. The coach was not going to lobby publicly for Fredrick to return, preferring to make do without the player than grovel for him to come back.
"If he wants to stay, he's welcome to stay," Hewitt said. "If he wants to leave, I never want to stand in someone's way."
The Fredrick camp then started getting nervous, making contact with Hewitt to downplay its interest in USC. Hewitt, Fredrick and Fredrick's parents met on May 15, one day before summer school started at Tech, for a final discussion. In the meeting, Hewitt expressed his displeasure with the public venting, especially by Fredrick Sr. The head coach wanted to make sure there would be no more distractions, either now or in the future.
After the meeting, Hewitt said, "I know he'll be in school in the fall."
Problems Killing Defensive Line
The Yellow Jackets' defense line, an anticipated strength, suddenly is looking like a potential concern, with two and possibly three expected starters out for the 2005 season.
Tech lost tackle Darryl Richard (ACL) during spring practice. A 6-4, 298-pound sophomore, he could have been the team's best lineman this year. A tremendous talent, he provided the smallish Tech line with a true force in the middle.
Then senior Travis Parker failed out of school. Parker, who started two seasons at tackle and one at end, could have been part of the solution without Richard. Parker's versatility gave Tech plenty of options. But Parker, who was suspended for a game at the beginning of last season because of academics, did not make the grade in the classroom. He missed spring practice because of a shoulder injury, and he was rarely seen around the team.
Junior tackle Joe Anoai's status is less certain. He underwent surgery on his arm after spring practice and could miss all or part of the 2005 season.
The losses certainly will require some shuffling in August. Defensive tackles Mansfield Wrotto and LeShawn Newberry were shifted to the offensive line for the spring, and one of them could move back. But the o-line also is a problem, complicating any moves.
Tech could turn to freshmen along the defensive line, something it did with Wrotto and Richard. Adamm Oliver likely will take over for Parker at end, joining with Eric Henderson. Sophomore Darrell Robertson and incoming freshman Michael Johnson also could see time at the spot.
Tackle is a bit more complicated. Anoai, if he can play, certainly will start. Redshirt freshmen Elris Anyaibe and David Brown, who missed most of spring practice with mono, could end up competing for the other spot.