BYU star Fredette out to prove he's an NBA-ready point guard
PROVO, Utah -- Jimmer Fredette had barely taken a dozen steps out the front door of Romano's Macaroni Grill when a voice screamed at him to stop.
"Jimmer!" squealed the teenage girl in the volleyball uniform. "Can I get a picture?"
Fredette smiled and nodded. This kind of impromptu request is commonplace for him here. Provo is a sprawling city of more than 500,000 residents and Fredette is easily the most well known. His popularity skyrocketed during a brilliant senior season at BYU, highlighted by 40-plus point performances against rivals Utah and San Diego State and a 52-point explosion against New Mexico. He has been lauded by the likes of Barack Obama and Kevin Durant while becoming the most sought after public speaker in the state.
"It has definitely gotten pretty crazy," Fredette said. "I don't go out much anymore. I just hang out at home and focus on basketball."
Last season Fredette led the nation in scoring (28.9 points per game), playing with what Fredette called "the ultimate green light." He carried the Cougars all the way to the Sweet 16 and cemented his place alongside Danny Ainge, Steve Young and Jim McMahon in BYU history.
Fredette doesn't think about those accomplishments much these days. His focus has narrowed considerably. The NBA draft is less than a week away and Fredette, like most prospects, is locked in on boosting his status. The NBA landscape is littered with elite college scorers who have failed to make an impact at the next level -- Adam Morrison, DaJuan Wagner and Casey Jacobsen, just to name a few -- and Fredette is determined to keep his name off that list.
His schedule is grueling: six days a week, often twice a day, Fredette is in a nearby gym working out with his uncle, Lee Taft, a respected trainer who has been working with Fredette since elementary school. Some days, former Arizona star Miles Simon works out with him. Other days, NBA veterans Rodney Carney and Britton Johnsen are around to give Fredette some length and size to shoot over in three-on-three drills.
"One thing I like about our workouts, they are specific to me," Fredette said. "I thought about going to work with another trainer. But at those workouts, there are tons of kids everywhere and it's hard sometimes to give everybody individual work. Here, it's all about me getting better."
Fredette's potential is a hotly debated topic. Some wonder what position he will play in the NBA. A shade under 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Jimmer has the body of an NBA point guard. But concerns over his playmaking; he averaged 4.3 assists last season at BYU, and a pedestrian 1.22-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio have led some scouts to wonder if he can handle the role of primary ballhandler at the next level.
"I'm a point guard," said Fredette. "I've played it my whole life. I don't know why people think I'm a two. Sometimes what people don't see about me is that I can pass the ball. I always average four or five assists. It's a fine line knowing when to shoot and when to get my teammates involved. I feel most comfortable with ball in my hands and I'm confident I'll be able to make plays, be aggressive either for myself of my teammates and make the right decisions."
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin agrees. "He's a point guard," Corbin said. "He's a pretty decent size for a point guard. His passing is underrated and people will see that when he gets to the next level and doesn't have to carry his team."
Then there is his scoring. Fredette was the ultimate volume scorer in college, launching shots from all over the floor. But a few GM's have wondered if a deeper three-point line and the presence of longer, more athletic defenders will make Fredette less effective.
Fredette has done his best to answer those questions. At the Chicago predraft camp last month, Fredette finished first among all players shooting the college three (19-of-25) and second from behind the NBA three-point line (19-of-25). Taft says Fredette has had NBA range since his freshman year of high school and thinks his ability to shoot awkward, off-balance shots will help him score over bigger defenders.
"He's a very creative scorer," Ainge said. "He had a lot of offensive responsibility in college and he showed he could handle it."
Indeed, Fredette feels coming back to BYU for his senior season helped him significantly. Fredette tested the NBA waters last spring. He might have declared for the draft had a team made him a first-round guarantee but there was enough uncertainty for him to come back to school. Last season, Fredette put in extra time working on his conditioning and often spent time after practice working with Cougars coaches on screen-and-rolls.
"I have a greater sense of confidence than I did this time last year," Fredette said. "I worked hard during the season. I played on USA select team and played pretty well. I'm getting close. I've worked a lot on my ball-handling, speed and quickness and conditioning. Those were my main focuses. My ballhandling has gotten much better. If you can get anywhere with the ball, like Steve Nash, it makes the game much easier."
Where Fredette will be drafted is difficult to project. His team workouts (which he has carefully chosen with teams that play up-tempo, pick-and-roll heavy systems) have been universally praised, with officials from the workouts expressing surprise at his athleticism, ballhandling and defense. Sacramento is likely the earliest possibility -- the Kings are after a sharpshooting guard to play next to Tyreke Evans -- and no one expects Fredette to slip past New York at No. 17. In between Utah (No. 12), Phoenix (No. 13) and Indiana (No. 15) are strong possibilities.
Fredette, predictably, says he would be fine playing anywhere. But he has his favorites. He ranks Utah at the top of his list, saying he would be fine with the pressure of building an NBA career 45 miles from where his decorated college career ended.
"I've been playing through a lot of pressure my whole life," Fredette said. "I feel I play better under pressure. That's the least of my concerns. I'm just going in to play basketball, the game I love."
His second choice is New York. A native of Glens Falls, N.Y., Fredette says he likes the Knicks' fast-paced system and pick-and-roll-heavy sets, while the anonymity of working in a city of 11 million people is appealing.
"I'd be more of a normal person," Fredette said.
Wherever Fredette goes, he knows the novelty of being the most high-profile college player in the draft will wear off quickly. Soon, he will have to prove his electrifying game translates to the next level, that his name doesn't belong on the growing list of can't-miss prospects that can't cut it at the NBA level. Jimmer will always be a star in Provo. Time will tell if that popularity will extend to another stop.