Jimmer-mania takes a backseat as Fredette focuses on game

Publish date:

There's an app for that, as the folks at Apple like to say, and the former BYU sensation who is just three weeks into his Sacramento stay could avoid all the hassle at this particular burrito joint with the touch of a few buttons on his cell phone. A Chipotle employee would surely be willing to meet him at his car with his online order, the omnipresent mob of his fans never knowing he was there and Fredette retaining a shred of privacy in the process.

But there's no need for such covert tactics at the moment, and so it was that Fredette and one of his associates, Octagon representative Kate Foley, dined in rare peace after the latest Kings training camp practice. Fredette made it through an entire meal without being stopped mid-bite for an autograph or a picture, an experience that simply wasn't possible back when he was getting the rock star treatment in Provo, Utah.

By the time Fredette was becoming the nation's leading scorer in his senior season with the Cougars, he had given up on the idea of going out and even took his final semester of classes online so each and every session didn't become a celebrity appearance. Jimmer-mania hasn't hit Sacramento yet, and that's just fine by him.

"It's not nearly like it is in Utah right now," Fredette said. "Maybe it will get to that. Maybe it won't. We'll see. If I can play well, then people will recognize me and everything. But it's definitely a lot different right now. You can go to the grocery store and sometimes people don't stop you yet. It's a nice change of pace, for sure. But hopefully at some point it'll happen, because if it does happen then it means you're playing well."

There's no way of knowing if this is the calm before the storm in Sacramento. His game and fame could reach new heights in the NBA for the next decade or more, or he could become one of the many collegiate sensations to be forever known as a bust when his skills simply don't translate at the next level.

The fit might turn out to be perfect on every front: The Kings, who haven't been to the playoffs since 2006 and still face an uncertain future in terms of possible relocation, needed another young piece to add to their core and were certainly well aware of the much-needed excitement Fredette could bring. While quantifying his business impact thus far is an inexact science, the spike in season-ticket sales and the fact that his jersey is already the top seller on the team would seem to indicate his impact extends beyond the Mormon community that is so prevalent in this area.

But give Fredette credit for this much so far: He's not resting on his reputation when it comes to the court. Despite the epic levels of hype and support that surround him, the 22-year-old who was traded to Sacramento on draft night after being taken 10th overall by Milwaukee is entering the league with all the humility of a D-Leaguer. He has already gained respect from his new teammates and coaches for his professional and poised approach, from the valiant attempts to work on his weaknesses (defense) to the way in which he uses his strengths (his surprisingly adept point guard skills) to help the Kings masses.

The widespread early impression is that Fredette is quiet and borderline shy, eager to fit in and as focused as they come when it comes to the work. He has had some lighter moments, among them a spontaneous dance-off with fellow rookie Isaiah Thomas at a Sacramento area charity game in November and the beginning of his many rookie duties last week when Fredette and former San Jose State guard Adrian Oliver had to pick up bottles off the practice facility floor to avoid heavy fines.

"I'm still trying to get a feel for him," said recently re-signed guard Marcus Thornton, who has quickly become one of the team's comedic leaders. "He's quiet, but he laughs and jokes with us. As a rookie, you kind of feel your way out, try to figure out where you fit in. He's going to be all right.

"The thing I like about him is I don't think he's too worried about his hype. He's focused. He's out there playing and he'll let the chips fall where they may."

Second-year big man DeMarcus Cousins has already taken kindly to Fredette and predicted they could be the NBA's version of reality TV odd couple, "Rob & Big." "I love Jimmer, man," Cousins said. "Jimmer's a cool dude. He's a real good rookie. I just love the fact that he's always trying to get it right and he's always learning. He's very humble. And him being the big star that he was you kind of expect him to come in and have swag and have his chest out, but he's the complete opposite. I've enjoyed him from the beginning."

On the floor, he's typically the one asking assistant coaches poignant questions during the break in the action or passing out energy drinks to his new colleagues during a much-needed breather. Off the floor, he dutifully makes the rounds at media and community events while quickly returning to his area apartment to get his rest before the next day's practice or game.

"I'm just a normal guy," Fredette insists. "Whatever happens off the court happens off the court, whether people recognize you or not -- it doesn't matter to me. I'm grateful that they do because they're fans and we love the fans. ... But I'm just a normal guy."

But the building of a marketing machine continues quietly in the background. Fredette surprised the shoe industry recently when his partnership with Spalding was revealed, and he has since worn two different versions of the shoe at Sacramento-area exhibition games. His DVD, "The Making of Jimmer," is expected to be released in mid-February. His agent, Chris Emens, said there is more to come soon in terms of endorsement deals, though he would not offer specifics.

That stuff, though, remains on the backburner for Fredette. He lives alone in an apartment for now, although his older brother, T.J., is expected to stay with him this season while his fiancee, Whitney Wonnacott, finishes her studies at BYU in anticipation of their wedding. The lockout-shortened, 66-game season means the learning curve is even sharper than normal, so the intense focus is on the hoops as he prepares to play a significant role in a three-guard rotation with former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans and Thornton.

And so far, coach Paul Westphal is pleased with what he's seen. Westphal, who is in the final year of his contract and will be expected to foster improvement after the Kings won a combined 49 games in his first two Sacramento seasons, has been impressed with Fredette's skills beyond his scoring.

"I think his court vision and playmaking are that of a veteran NBA player," Westphal said. "He's got a feel for where the other players are, has good timing on delivering passes. That's one of his strengths. He doesn't force things. He takes shots he can make.

"Jimmer is definitely going to be able to score in this league. ... He's going to have some ... challenges [on the defensive end], but he's a smart player and he'll learn how to position himself and defend some of the greatest athletes in the world. He's working hard and he's learning. He's doing about as well as can be expected."

Kings lead assistant Jim Eyen, who is entering his 21st season as an NBA assistant, is also convinced Fredette can be more than a scorer.

"He really sees the floor," Eyen said. "He not only makes the extra pass, but he sees the pass that's available before it even happens, and rarely do you have players who have the ability to do that, who can anticipate. He finds people ... and he's also very content with making the simple play, which really is great for a team.

"I think our players are recognizing how easy he is to play with. Not only does he stretch the floor for you, and he brings that to the table, but he also can make plays and make other people better around him, which is not something that you expect the guy who leads the country in scoring to be able to do. It's a big asset. We know he can score, but he has also shown that he has the ability to play a great floor game and pepper the stat sheet in other areas and not just field goals."

Added Bobby Jackson, the first-year assistant coach who was a high-octane reserve guard for the Kings back in his day: "He can definitely score the ball. Offensively, he knows how to break down the defense and take what the defense gives him. He's very good in pick-and-rolls. He's a smart guy. He's holding his own. He's learning, asking questions.

"Offensively, this kid has everything in his game -- getting to the basket, passing, pull-up jump shot, deep threes coming off screens. The kid can really score and shoot the ball, and that's something that you can't teach. But I don't think he really buys into the Jimmer-mania stuff. He just wants to play basketball and become a good player."

If Saturday night in Oakland was any indication, then the NBA fame might come even quicker than Fredette might like. An injury to swingman John Salmons put Fredette in the starting lineup for his preseason debut against Golden State unexpectedly, and he responded with a 21-point outing in the loss that made you wonder if this transition to the pros will be as tough as we'd expected it to be.

He was 7-of-11 from the field overall and buried four three-pointers, the first of which qualified as his first NBA field goal and came in typical Jimmer form as he launched from way beyond the top of the arc. There was a trademark circus shot, too, a leaning mid-range attempt from the left side that he hit despite serious contact on the way up. Fredette even surprised the masses with a genuine attempt to play defense, even stopping the Warriors' Dorell Wright on one possession, in which the 6-foot-9 small forward missed badly on a fade away from the right wing that came with Jimmer's hand in his face.

Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof watched with wonderment from their courtside seats, hollering in excitement as they so often do and hypothesizing about how quickly Fredette's fame could grow among their fan base if he's able to produce right away.

"We've had to have two people working full-time on [Fredette's] jersey [because of the demand]," Joe Maloof revealed. "On the black jerseys, we had a bunch of them with no name on the back, so we had to have two people downstairs putting the name on the back of his jersey, working day and night to get as many out as we could."

But that stuff is of little importance to Fredette.

"It's just like coming into college when you're a freshman," he said. "It's a whole different challenge, going out there and proving yourself and trying to gain respect from them and showing respect to them as well. Then hopefully you get on the floor and show them you can play.