Zam Fredrick began to realize deep into the 1980-81 South Carolina men’s basketball season that he had a chance to lead the NCAA in scoring. Those were pre-Internet days, and updates on other scorers around the country sometimes took days to reach Columbia.
Nevertheless, through The State newspaper accounts, Fredrick learned in late February that he ranked second nationally with a 27.4 average. Kevin Magee, a guard at California-Irvine, held a slight lead, and Colgate guard Mike Ferrara was not far off the pace in third.
“I wasn’t really trying to catch them, but after I got so close, I was like, ‘Why not?’ ” Fredrick says today. “So, those last few games we really put the pedal to the metal, and it worked out pretty well.”
In quick succession to close the final two weeks of the regular season, Fredrick went for 41 points against Furman, 34 against William & Mary, 35 against Florida State, 39 against Boston and a career-high 43 against Georgia Southern.
Colgate’s Ferrara must have known he had a chance to capture the scoring title, and he finished in a flurry as well, putting up 50 points in one game.
In the same number of games (27), Fredrick captured the scoring title with 9 more points than Ferrara and 28 more than Magee. Fredrick finished with a 28.9 scoring average to Ferrara’s 28.6 and Magee’s 27.5.
There was no fanfare over Fredrick’s accomplishment. No trophy presentation. No recognition from USC. Today, he does not possess a certificate to show that he was the nation’s top scorer.
On Monday, Fredrick will receive some long overdue acknowledgment for his contribution to basketball in the state when he is inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame. In addition to USC’s second national scoring title (Grady Wallace was the other in 1957), coach Fredrick has led Calhoun County to eight state high school basketball championships. His teams once won 81 consecutive games.
In attendance for the Hall of Fame banquet will be Zam’s wife, Debra, and their three children, Zambolist Jr. (Buck), Zandria and Zamuel, as well as their three grandchildren, Zion, Zoe and Zaria.
Fredrick’s mother started the pattern of first names that begin with the letter “Z,” after taking a liking to the old television series “77 Sunset Strip.” The star of that show was actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who played an Ivy League-educated private eye. Mom liked the name Zimbalist, and gave her son a variation of the name: Zambolist.
The voice message on Fredrick’s cell phone greets the caller as Zambolist, yet when he played he was called Zam. Although highly recruited by USC coach Frank McGuire and his staff out of St. Matthews High, Fredrick and his unusual first name were hardly well known around Columbia by his senior season for the Gamecocks.
He was the most unlikely of scoring kings after three seasons in which he averaged 2, 14 and 7 points. If you are wondering why his average nose-dived from his sophomore to junior seasons, Fredrick says it had to do with playing time – or lack thereof.
“He was playing five, six guys at most,” Fredrick says of McGuire. “If you weren’t in that rotation, you weren’t in it. ... It was a matter of minutes with me. That’s all it was.”
McGuire retired at the end of Fredrick’s junior season, and the player had the great fortune of USC hiring Bill Foster away from Duke. Foster remembered being impressed with Fredrick’s play during the Iron Duke Classic at Duke in December of 1979.
So, when Foster was introduced at USC, he pulled Fredrick aside that summer and told the 6-foot-2 guard that he was to be the team’s leader. It helped Fredrick that USC fielded a youthful team during Foster’s first season, one that featured the senior Fredrick, a sophomore and three freshmen.
Early on, the team struggled to find itself, and Fredrick found himself attempting to incorporate his teammates into all aspects of the game, including scoring. In the third game of the season, Fredrick scored 4 points, which left him with a 14.7 scoring average.
As the season turned to January, Fredrick was the team’s leader and its top scorer. Sometime around the time the Gamecocks played at Marquette on Jan. 17, Foster again confided in his star.
“Listen, if we’re going to reach our full potential and do the things we should with this team, you’re going to have to step it up,” Fredrick recalls Foster telling him. “I want to see that guy come forward.”
Fredrick loved the challenge of playing against a national-elite team in Marquette, which featured one of the nation’s top guards in Doc Rivers. To that point, 14 games in, Fredrick was averaging 22.3 points. He scored 31 against Marquette.
Over the season’s final 13 games, Fredrick scored 30 or more points 12 times. The only time he fell short, he managed 29 against Richmond. Even toward the end of the season, he did not know if he had the scoring title.
His career-high 43 points in the season finale against Georgia Southern moved Fredrick into eighth place on USC’s all-time scoring list. Following that game, on Feb. 23, Fredrick led the nation in scoring. But Magee of UC-Irvine and Magee still had games to play.
Magee scored 25, 26 and 14 points to slip to third place. Ferrara charged by scoring 50 and 36 in his final two games, but he fell just shy of Fredrick. Had that kind of race been staged today, there likely would have been daily updates in newspapers and on the Internet.
Fredrick seemed to be among a handful who knew what he had accomplished, and over the years, his scoring title has come up only in occasional conversations. He rarely mentions it, unless he is trying to make a point to his Calhoun County basketball team.
“I’m not telling you something about what I think,” Fredrick says he tells his team. “I’m telling you what I know. I understand how to put the ball in the hole, so when I tell you this, you need to believe it.”
Now 54 years old, Fredrick says he still can demonstrate to his team how to shoot and score.
“I’m going to die with my shooting rhythm,” he says. “My shooting eye is always going to be there.”
Just like it was during the 1980-81 season, when he was the college basketball scoring king.
HALL OF FAME
Zam Fredrick by the byumbers