Jimmer Fredette's unlikely path to becoming a star

Jimmer Fredette drives to the basket against New Mexico's Kendall Williams. NBA draft analysts have questions about his game, but there are no doubts about his marketing potential.
Jimmer Fredette drives to the basket against New Mexico's Kendall Williams. NBA draft analysts have questions about his game, but there are no doubts about his marketing potential.
Posted: March 15, 2011

My dad was the first to tell me about Jimmer Fredette.

We were driving on the Adirondack Northway. He was chauffeuring me to a job interview at the Glens Falls Post-Star, a great little paper about 45 minutes north of my hometown in upstate New York.

Because I hadn't lived in the area for about a decade, my dad was updating me on the local sports scene, circa 2007.

"You can't walk into this newspaper without knowing about Jimmer Fredette," he said.

Jimmer's legend, despite being only a high school senior, had expanded enough to include our family.

"Who?" I asked.

"Jimmer Fredette, white kid, can really shoot it."

"Jimmer? Do you mean Jimmy?"   

"No," he said. "I mean Jimmer."

That day, no one at my future paper tested my Jimmer knowledge, which at the time was limited to "white kid, can really shoot it."

Now, Jimmer is everywhere.

He's the Justin Bieber of college basketball:

YouTube is flooded with videos of the Brigham Young senior point guard.

There's a rap song, "Teach Me How to Jimmer," that's been viewed a quarter of a million times and spurred a website of the same name. There are love songs from college girls and little kids and at least a dozen tribute montages, some viewed nearly a half a million times.

After Jimmer dropped 43 points on No. 4 San Diego State in January, NBA star Kevin Durant Tweeted, "Jimmer Fredette is the best scorer in the world!!" Durant's shout out was just one of dozens pouring in around the nation.

Friday night, he scored 52 against NewMexico in the Mountain West semifinals, breaking Danny Ainge's career scoring record.

Jimmer's allure is in his game - 30-foot jumpers, creativity around the hoop, and a nation-leading scoring average of 28.5 points per game - as well as his story, a cherub-cheeked Mormon who defied the odds to become the face of this year's NCAA Tournament.

The network bigwigs thought enough of Jimmer's allure to give third-seeded BYU's second-round Southeast Regional game against Wofford the primetime, nationally-televised slot on CBS.

Jimmer is coming to your TV: Thursday night, 7:15.

Home boy

In 1944, Look magazine nicknamed Glens Falls "Hometown USA." Since then, much has happened, not all of it good. Every decade of the last half century, Glens Falls' population has decreased.

Certain parts of the town could use a fresh coat of paint.

What the town does have is two areas of sporting pride uncommon for its size: an American Hockey League team, the Phantoms, a Flyers' affiliate and a step down from the NHL, and the New York State high school basketball tournament.

From 2007 to 2008, I mastered Jimmer trivia: Did you know he was the ball boy for his brother's state finalist team? Did you know he was once a pudgy little kid regaling halftime crowds with three pointers? Did you know he is Mormon? Did you know he and his brother T.J. played in prisons?

Jimmer's senior year at Glens Falls High promised to light the town on fire. We at The Post-Star were ambitious, so I climbed into my co-worker's Honda CRV and the two of us braved the winding roads near the Canadian border and followed Jimmer through the state playoffs.

As we drove from Potsdam to Syracuse, cell phones worthless between towns, we did what local reporters do. We discussed Jimmer's future.

We asked one another how he might do at BYU. We concluded that he'd likely start by his junior season, perhaps be selected second team all Mountain West Conference as a senior. And in what I'm sure felt like a moment of extreme local bias, we predicted a few years of pro ball overseas.

We thought we were being generous to the hometown hero.

We knew the kid, after all. We found him shy, bordering on vanilla. In talking with him before or after games, it was almost as if he preferred expressing himself on the court, using a basketball.

Raising the bar

I'm idling in the parking lot of The Post-Star, steps from a blue-collar bar airing that afternoon's BYU game, amazed that Jimmer, who used to walk into our offices for local "player of the year" photos, is now trending on Twitter.

Sitting there, I'm wondering exactly how I plan on telling a story that so many people have already told: two articles in Sports Illustrated, ESPN, the New York Times, Yahoo! Sports, and even National Public Radio.

What's my fresh angle on Jimmer?

Through the town's eyes . . .

Since Jimmer's story started in Glens Falls, I will too. I'll tell Jimmer's tale through those left behind. I'll find his ex-History teacher, I'll talk to the mayor, I'll walk the streets Jimmer walked.

The Lawrence Street Tavern is like most bars named after the street of location: unpretentious, straightforward, not dressing itself as something it's not.

Carved into the first floor of a three-story apartment building, entrances through either of two doors on a wrap-around porch, this is the kind of bar where I'd pull a twenty from my wallet and lock the rest in the glove compartment.

But today no such worry exists.

The BYU banners fly from the porch, a steady stream of customers climb the creaky steps, and the hum of CBS's college basketball broadcast have brushed aside any inclination to reassuringly touch my back pocket.

After a deep breath - this is still a rough-around-the-edges joint, after all - I walk inside.

A half dozen brand-new, flat-screen TVs are mounted against worn walls, each looking like a shiny quarter atop a frayed bill. The bartender doesn't hide her impatience when glimpsing my credit card. Cash only. Fifty people are here when normally about a half dozen, bellied up, heads down, would require her attention.

Today, Jimmer is playing basketball.

And when he does, life's daily worries are placed aside.

Jimmer is this town's fresh coat of paint. Everyone at the Lawrence Street Tavern is there to watch him. And they line up to talk about him.

"You seen the photos of little Jimmer on YouTube?" asks Dan Hall, the city's councilman-at-large and lifelong Fredette family friend. "The ones where he's four or five, dribbling?"

I nod. I have.

Dan tosses his thumb over his shoulder and says, "Those are at the courts I ran, over at East Field."

Everyone in this town has a similar story: they served Jimmer a sandwich; played with him on a recreation-league team; have a nephew who went to high school with him.

Dan pauses, leans in.

"It's like Jimmer has - what was it my friend said? - it's like he's breathed fresh air into this town," Dan says, but this isn't the specific description he desires.

He excuses himself, walks away in search of his lost word.

Jimmer drains back-to-back three pointers. The bar's roof nearly levitates. There's a folding table in the corner, upon which t-shirts with Jimmer's No. 32 are being sold. Most here already own one. Soon I will, too.

By the time Dan finds me again, BYU is well ahead of San Diego State and victory is imminent.

"Electrified," Dan says, satisfied. "That's what Jimmer has done for this town: he's electrified it."

A minute later, I bump into Brett Reynolds. Years ago, with his family going through a rough spell, he crashed in T.J. and Jimmer's room. He's nervous because he's "fallen" from the Mormon Church and because his admiration for the Fredettes runs deeper than the town's considerable snow banks.

Brett finally tells me about those early years. How he witnessed the daily lives of each brother become "totally dominated" on Jimmer's goal. He calls Jimmer an experiment: what might happen if one passionate kid decides he can become anything.

Rapping paper

When Jimmer was a freshman at BYU, we at The Post-Star discovered - after noticing a promo flyer while eating dinner at Quizno's - that T.J. was a rapper. The flyer detailed an upcoming show on South Street, Glens Falls' quasi-nightclub area. We were mesmerized by the possibility.

Jimmer's brother was a Mormon rapper? We did a few Google searches, checked out T.J.'s MySpace page, and noted the clean, uplifting lyrics.

The gods, we said to one another, had never created a better storyline.

Two weeks later, I found myself on the Fredette's basement couch, listening as T.J. planned the South Street show with the other performers. I was writing about T.J, but separating one brother from the other was as impossible as ignoring the thousands of plaques, trophies, and photos cluttering the walls.

I left the Fredette home surprised by its size, its "coziness."

My mind began spinning webs around one central, un-discussed, Jimmer theme: the hoops star was raised in modesty, a sort of philosophical poverty in this age of overindulgence.

This actually made some sense. Jimmer and T.J. slept, nearly touching, on mattresses in a claustrophobic upstairs bedroom, yet the downstairs basement held a ridiculously nice flat-screen TV on which the family watched the New York Football Giants.

"OK, so, T.J.," I began once T.J. joined me at "The Coffee Pod" in downtown Provo. (T.J. doesn't drink coffee or tea, per church rules.) "I think maybe, I don't know, that I have a cool angle, but I'm not totally sure."

T.J. waited. He agreed with me that finding a fresh Jimmer angle would be difficult.

"Is it fair to say that you guys were raised, um, modestly?"

"We didn't have money, that's for sure," T.J. laughed.

"I kind of got the impression that maybe that was a choice," I soldiered on, thinking how talking money is more uncomfortable than holding a scalding coffee. "That your dad, perhaps as a way of raising his kids to work for what they want, raised you modestly anyway?"

"Oh," T.J. grinned. "That wasn't a choice, that was reality."

I soon discover that before Jimmer was born, the family business went under. The demise of "The Fredette Bakery," aided by some unfortunate circumstances, left the family in debt. Because of Al's persistence and work ethic, there was always enough to get by, but my vision of philosophical modesty is quickly replaced by authentic modesty.

Jimmer could never afford the nicest basketball sneakers. No Jordans, T.J. says, just something solid and nice.

Jimmer's sneakers never spoke louder than his game.

Al explained the family's mindset.

"Myself and my wife and other people, every day we had to work. Our neighbors, the community, the area, we had to work and work hard and Jimmer understood that."

Al's youngest began thinking, 'Maybe I can make basketball my work.'

When her kids were young, Kay Fredette, Jimmer's mom, would occasionally read from a plaque hanging on the wall. It began something like, "Nothing takes the place of persistence; the world is filled with talented people, but . . ."

Kay isn't sure if her kids remember, but all three - sister Lindsay, 30, lives in Salt Lake City - seem to embody the words she once read to them.

Since Jimmer was the last in the familial line, he had more than just a plaque by which to model his life's approach.

Teach you why it's Jimmer

I need something else.

My mom once told me that every mother has a story about her child's name so I reason that Jimmer, born James Taft Fredette, would be no different.

The name that has been scribbled on enough poster board to make an environmentalist cringe surely has an origin story worthy of its cult-like status.

I go to T.J. before Kay because T.J.'s my Jimmer historian. This will be like a game of telephone, examining the ways in which the story's been distorted while passing between generations.

T.J. seems sure of himself. This question is as easy as a free throw.

"The family already had too many James'," T.J. explains. "My mom never intended for Jimmer to be called that. She knew someone in high school named Jimmer and she thought the name was cute."

I go back a generation, to Kay herself. The explanation is so simple and makes so much sense, you forget how ubiquitous the name has become.

"I wasn't going to name him Jimmer legally. It's just his nickname, but his real name is James. Just as a variation because of other James' in our family, I wanted to call him Jimmer. The name actually came from a friend of mine when I was just a young girl. She used to have a cute little brother that used to hang around all of the time and he was called Jimmer. I always thought that it was cute and twenty or more years later when I had my last son, I remembered that name because Jimmer looked like a Jimmer, full of energy and character . . . I just went with my instincts."

T.J. passes the test, not too bad, but he was missing the traditional married-life dynamic, which Kay supplies in her next line.

"My husband Al didn't care one way or the other what we named them."

To Jimmer, the name "James" was hardly recognizable as his own. His sister Lindsay, nine years older, hated the name "Jimmer" and told their mom how "dumb" it was. For a short time, she refused to use the nickname, but eventually recognized how perfectly it suited her younger brother.

Kay would become upset if teachers insisted on calling him "James," because she worried her son didn't identify with that name.

She felt, all along, that the name would serve him well.

"I remember when Jimmer used to tell other kids that he would meet at AAU games what his name was, they would say, "Your name is WHAT?!" Kay continued. "By the time they left the gym, though, they all knew Jimmer's name and didn't forget it."

Rely on the Old Reliables

Can I plagiarize myself? Just rehash the facts that have become standard Jimmer lore?

I've walked the church hallway in which Jimmer learned to dribble. In 2008, I was shooting baskets with T.J. inside their church's small gym when T.J. casually mentioned Jimmer's NBA goal. It was completely off hand, as if letting me know the two of them planned on ordering pizza for dinner.

Certain Fredette facts roll off the fingers like a left-handed layup: perfected through repetition.

Al converted to Mormonism when he was 18, following his own brother's path.

Kay remains Catholic, but has come to appreciate the Latter Day Saints' teachings. All three children made their own religious choices. All three chose the LDS and all three were raised in the Mormon faith, which played a role in Jimmer's selection of BYU. Lindsay, Jimmer's sister, attended BYU nearly a decade before him.

Jimmer used to be chubby, keeping his baby fat through middle school. Jimmer could make a three pointer when he was 5. While standing on the playground's sidelines he would ask in a high-pitched tone, "Can I plaaaaaaay?" To tease his younger brother, T.J. would rub his cheek and call him "Cheeks." In high school, he and T.J. played in prisons. The environment was more intimidating than any conference opponent's arena, but still Jimmer had no trouble impressing the inmates.

Jimmer says he doesn't drink, hasn't smoked, and doesn't have sex. (All part of BYU's Honor Code.)

Despite being a dedicated Mormon, Jimmer decided against the typical two-year mission BYU encourages of its 18-year-old students, and says now that his game has done more for the Mormon faith than any mission might have.

"It's more important to me than being a good basketball player . . ." Jimmer said of his faith, speaking to the Mormon Times. "I love our church."

During Jimmer's sophomore year at BYU, T.J. could hardly lift himself from the couch. T.J. was enveloped in dizziness and headaches, the lingering effects of a brain injury suffered because of anesthesia during knee surgery.

At times, it became so debilitating that Jimmer's games were the only thing holding T.J.'s attention. Jimmer had little knowledge of his brother's struggles. T.J. still attended a few of Jimmer's games and never dragged his younger brother into his darkness.

After a neurologist in Vermont diagnosed the affliction, T.J. endured months of rehab repairing the injured area of his vestibular system. Today, T.J. can live a relatively un-tortured life and continues helping Jimmer chase his hoop dream, while chasing his own music dream.

T.J. frequently visits Provo. He says BYU has been like a true college experience for him, too, because he spent just two years at Adirondack Community College, located a few miles from the family home. Although he'll still occasionally rebound for Jimmer, play a little fake defense during drills, T.J. lets the professionals further polish his brother's game.

These are the nuts and bolts. Most of these are facts you could find if you Googled "Jimmer Fredette" and navigated toward his Wiki page.

Illuminate the future

As one BYU student told me, Mormons "carry their standards with them," so it's no surprise that the student population does not come unhinged with the dream-denting suspension of big man Brandon Davies, who had pre-marital sex with his girlfriend.

"It's been difficult," says Jimmer, in his traditional soft-spoken way. "Brandon is one of our good players and he's like a brother to us, family. I think we're going to be all right. He told us everything, that he was sorry and thought he let us down. We told him it's okay, it's something that's life."

Davies' absence has created a "learning curve" for the Cougars, who can only hope they've mastered the altered game plan by Thursday's opener.

"We don't have time to worry about it," says Jimmer.

Jimmer's goal is a Sweet Sixteen. Admitting hope for the Elite Eight would feel greedy, like revealing your birthday wish after blowing out the candles. His intensity could melt ice, but it will be his outside shot that will either carry, or crash, his Cougars.

Of course, this is only the immediate future. There's so much more ahead: the rest of the plan.

Above Jimmer's pillow in his childhood room is a contract written in marker. It's signed by Jimmer and witnessed by T.J. It reads, "I James T. Fredette agree on this day Jan 27, 2007 to do the work and make the necessary sacrifices to be able to reach my ultimate goal of playing in the NBA."

In his song, "Amazing," T.J. lays out that moment:

When everybody was partying

you were keeping your sights on the dream

the NBA

I'll never forget the day when I wrote you a contract that would say

that you would pay

whatever price

you looked at me with fire in your eyes

wrote your name upon the line

a defining moment in time

. . . now it"s time.

Kay loved seeing this contract. She understands that writing down your dreams brings them into the concrete world, makes you more accountable to them. Al Fredette saw it one day and said, "Hey, that's pretty cool."

"That contract engrained my NBA goal in my mind," Jimmer tells me, adding that looking at it reminded him daily to do the necessary work: shoot, run, lift weights, dribble, and practice. (In one childhood photo, 3-year-old Jimmer is doing defensive slides, shuffling from one orange cone to the next and looking not much taller than the cones themselves.)

Kay thinks she should probably get it laminated soon, before it further deteriorates.

T.J. has been trying to explain Jimmer's potential for years. He's watched Jimmer go to the gym when he'd rather be swimming or hanging with his girlfriend. He watched during those high school summers when Jimmer would drop 25 points on, say, future NBA guard O.J. Mayo as easily has he'd drop 25 on Schuylerville High.

I point out the obvious: he's Jimmer's brother, not an unbiased observer. I warn people against believing everything my mom says about me as well.

T.J. grins.

"I can understand, totally, people from the outside just being like, 'Yeah, he's good, but . . ." T.J. says. "I just kept telling people, 'Look out for Jimmer, he's coming.'"

Last season, NBA scouts told Jimmer he'd likely be selected late in the first round, early in the second. There were no guarantees and since Jimmer wanted his senior year anyway, the decision to return was made easier.

DraftExpress currently predicts Jimmer will go 13th (to the Phoenix Suns) in the 2011 NBA Draft, although his stock fluctuates with questions about his size, speed, and defense. What isn't a concern is his endorsement potential: one agent said companies are lining up to use his squeaky-clean image and market his electrifying game and trouble-free persona.

The ideal NBA landing pad for both brothers - basketball for Jimmer, music for T.J. - would be New York.

"We want him to go to the Knicks," T.J. says without hesitation. "That's our team."

In NYC, Jimmer could learn under veteran point guard Chauncey Billups, play in coach Mike D'Antoni's up-and-down system, and live in a city close to home.

Of course, this isn't a controllable part of the plan.

When not holding a basketball, there's little flashy about Jimmer. He walked into a recent BYU home game wearing dark sweatpants and tan construction boots, an outfit that I couldn't help but immediately translate into a metaphor for his blue-collar upbringing.

Jimmer isn't the type to buy watches and chains and big cars, explains T.J. Maybe he'll buy a comfortable house and invest some of his rookie contract, let his money work for him.

This, of course, is almost completely opposite of Jimmer's play, when he takes long-range risks and dips and dives toward the hoop.

You can watch for yourself on Thursday.

Read it and weep

While back in Glens Falls, I stop by The Post-Star.

I tell them why I'm in town. They groan.

They beg me not to write the same story they've seen repeatedly written: Jimmer dribbled in the church hallway, Jimmer played in prisons, Jimmer used to be a fat little kid.

I tell them I'll try not to.


  BYU vs. Wofford, Thursday at 7:15 p.m. (CBS3)


Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at kfagan@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/DeepSixer3, and read her blog, Deep Sixer, on Philly.com.

 

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