On a day when he could have been touting his basketball knowledge and coaching prowess, Zam Fredrick of Calhoun County wanted everyone to know two things.
First off, he wanted to remind people in Columbia – where he starred for the Gamecocks in basketball during his college days – and around the state that he is from Calhoun County and wouldn’t dream of having it any other way. He had just won his state record ninth high school basketball state title as the head coach of the Saints boys program that is so close to his roots and his heart.
“As for the nine – of course it’s great to be out front,” Fredrick said. “But, for me, it’s all about Calhoun.
“I’m a Calhoun County product who came back home to coach some basketball. The fact that I’ve been there the whole time and we’ve been able to win nine, which is more than anybody else, it’s just real special. It’s about Calhoun more than anything else.”
Secondly, he wanted to let anyone know within earshot at Colonial Life Arena, those at home watching local and region television reports, and those reading online and in print the following days that this CCHS team is special, and should be remembered as such.
“We really didn’t have any stars, per se; the closest thing we had to a star was (junior forward) Terrence (Brunson), and he is one of the two players we lost to injury early in the schedule,” Fredrick said of his team. “It’s a special thing to see guys dig in and work as hard as this team did.”
Just minutes after Fredrick’s Saints capped off an injury-plagued 22-4 season with a satisfying 65-55 Class A state championship win against Hemingway this past Saturday, the coach who led the nation’s college programs in scoring (28.9 ppg) as a Gamecocks guard in his senior season of 1980-81 talked mostly about what the defensive-minded approach he takes to coaching has done for his program and for the well-earned pride of the school and surrounding St. Matthews community.
On Saturday, no Saints player scored more than 14 points, and no Tigers player was allowed to score more than 14 points. Some find it hard to believe, but that is a result of Fredrick’s game plan for success, that has worked over and over again. No single star is necessary to bring production every game, but rather they are a team that plays at the same fast pace and plays defense like a hungry defensive unit in football.
Fredrick’s ninth coaching championship surpassed John Smith, who has won eight state titles as coach at Great Falls High School and is the winningest basketball coach in South Carolina prep history, nearing 950 career wins. The Saints program picked up four consecutive state titles from 2006-2009, while being led by a player who just signed his second NFL contract this week - Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
Before the Saints were presented with the state championship trophy, Fredrick made it a point to find Smith in the crowd and acknowledge the Upstate coach for his success, out of respect.
“John is my guy, and I had to look him up out there,” Fredrick told the assembled media members near midcourt after the game. “Sometimes you get guys who can find ways to win games, and he has definitely done that. I’ve always respected what John has done.
“But, I’m home and I’m trying to do as much as I can for my guys. So, it’s very special for Calhoun County.”
Special, yes it is. And the numbers tell a big part of the story. Fredrick’s teams are now 9-2 in state championships, with four of those wins coming on the Class 2A level. Fredrick’s teams have won 660 games, since he completed a seven-year professional basketball playing career in 1987 and took over the Calhoun County program two years later.
Fredrick played at USC for well-respected coaches Frank McGuire and Bill Foster, and he was inducted into the Gamecocks Athletics Hall Of Fame in 2002. In all, when you add in the back-to-back state titles he helped lead St. Matthews High to as a player in 1975 and 1976, Fredrick has been a part of 11 championships on the hardwood for Calhoun County. But, it was obvious his pride in his team on Saturday far surpassed any individual accolades he has accumulated through the years.
In one seven-year stretch, Fredrick led the Saints to an 81-game winning streak and five consecutive state championships. That kind of consistent success is what built the CC program up and into the perennial title contender it has become.
And this team proved that determination, even through injury, can keep a great team great, despite major challenges. Some questioned if a team could win deep in playoffs after losing two players to season-ending injuries. Brunson, a junior forward, had started the Upper State final in 2015, and was supposed to be a leader on this team. But, he was undercut in a scuffle for a loose ball in an early-December game and tore an ACL in his knee. Not long before that, the Saints lost sophomore Chris Bonaparte to the same injury—the same player who’s brother and teammate, Emmitt Holston, was lost to the same injury during the 2015 season.
So, when the final seconds of Saturday’s title game were ticking off the clocks around Colonial Life Arena, it was fitting that the coach and some of his players all began holding up nine fingers in the air. In their own special way, each current and former Saints player has been a part of the coach’s state-record nine championships, all of which reside in St. Matthews.
Senior forward Malik Johnson summed it up after making sure the championship trophy made it safely to the Saints locker room.
“Huge season for 2016, this is the year,” Johnson said. “Coach gets his ninth (championship), and I get my first ring.
“I’m loving it; we did it!”
Fredrick was all smiles before going into the locker room to congratulate his team on the title. But, he had one last comment to make on the championship run, through injuries and four losses.
“This has been probably the most satisfying season I have had as a coach,” he said. “And I’ve had some great ones.
“I couldn’t be happier for these guys.”
These guys include Johnson, Bonaparte, Holston, Brunson, Anthony Browne, Marquise Greene, Johnathan Smith, Justin Williams, Zamuel Fredrick, Tyreek Goodwine, Stantell Jones, Jayshawn Brigmon, Kareem Fludd, Tavarius Ellis, Malik Glover, Reginald Simons, and Eyen Zeigler.