Numbers matter in basketball.
Percentages, raw figures and streaks are all pivotal in describing the flow of a game. If you’ve tuned into a UNC-Duke men’s basketball game in the last five decades and been hit by a startling statistic, you’ve probably benefited from the work of one American history lecturer.
Fred W. Kiger, or ‘Freddie,” is known by his colleagues as a walking encyclopedia of ACC basketball knowledge. He’s not sure how many UNC-Duke basketball games he’s worked at this point, but he said the count is nearing 100.
And, while the past few years have marked a transition period for the ACC in terms of coaching turnover, Kiger is proudly surviving the generational spans as a veteran statistician for countless broadcast outlets.
“He knows every person around these games,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “He is a joy of the league. Every time you walk into an arena, Fred is there.”
Although his love for statistics began in high school, Kiger truly got his foot in the door as a student at North Carolina.
Kiger lived in Teague Residence Hall with UNC women’s soccer coach and former intramural teammate Anson Dorrance in the early 1970s when he was encouraged to apply for a statistics position for the men’s basketball team. Former UNC men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, who worked with Kiger in the intramural sports office on campus, assisted Kiger in his application.
“Who wouldn’t want to have a chance to be associated with Coach Smith and the Carolina basketball program?” Kiger said. “It was a chance for me to be a part of something special.”
Kiger was tasked with recording the assist-to-turnover ratio before former UNC men’s basketball coach Dean Smith put him in charge of a larger project — charting basketball officials.
Every time there was a whistle blow in a UNC game, Kiger charted everything from the call, score and name of the official, to the reaction on the court. He said he averaged nearly 100 entries per game for two years when Smith finally called the investigation off.
“(Smith) came to me in that Midwestern, nasal twang of his, and said ‘Fred, there just doesn’t seem to be any trends whatsoever,’ Kiger said. “That’s where his head was. He was always thinking, always exploring to see how he might make the game more of a known commodity — more of something he may be able to be more aware of and control.”
In many ways, that’s the same approach that Kiger brings to his work as a statistician. The UNC-Duke game, with its storied history and countless specialty stats, is no exception.
“There’s something about that game that you want to bring your best to,” Kiger said. “In preparation for the upcoming game, I’ll probably do three or five hours of research before I even get to Cameron Indoor.”
While Kiger likes to think of himself as a mere percussionist to the symphony orchestra that is a basketball broadcast, every now and then, he gets the chance to shine through like a crashing symbol.
In J.J. Redick’s final home game in Cameron, an 83-76 UNC win, a producer gave Kiger the unofficial title for ‘stat of the game’ for his work documenting a Redick scoring drought.
“We’ve established our credibility, so people look to us,” John Maddrey, a longtime statistician and partner of Kiger’s, said. “When an announcer starts a sentence and looks to (us) to provide them the data or the number to complete the sentence, having that working relationship and being able to provide that is very invigorating.”
The work of Kiger, while often overlooked by viewers at home, doesn’t go unrecognized by the announcers he works with. Both Wes Durham and Mike Patrick complimented Kiger’s preparation, saying that he makes their jobs easier and less stressful to complete on the air.
“When you’re always doing an exceptional job, that’s what people always expect from you,” Patrick said. “We’d always say (to Fred), ‘Great job, that was terrific,’ and we meant it. But how do you exceed virtual perfection? That’s what I always got.”
As for this Saturday, Kiger said he’ll be keeping an eye on the number of touches Bacot gets and what he does with the ball. Duke’s offensive rebounding and bench usage and UNC’s points off turnovers are a few of the specialty stats that Kiger predicts will be important.
His stats pages this weekend will also be littered with notes from his preparation, decorated with season highs and season lows in points and shooting percentages.
And even though he’s nearing game 100, Kiger still gets just as excited. The level of anticipation is no different from what it was when he worked his first UNC-Duke game back in 1974.
“I don’t know how fans watch,” Kiger said. “It just takes your insides and turns them upside down to watch. When I work a game, I’m in it. I’m one with the stats and the broadcast.”
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