Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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When Jim Hart first saw Jimmer Fredette as an eighth-grader, he wasn’t exactly blown away by the kid’s athleticism.
Fredette stood 5-foot-6 and 110 pounds.
“He was a little chubby guy then playing for his Watervleit Arsenal Athletics mom and pop team,” Hart, the coach of the Albany City Rocks AAU team, recalled Wednesday by phone.
Hart’s impression of the young man changed dramatically when Fredette scored 51 points when the City Rocks beat Arsenal Athletics, 102-101 in overtime, in an AAU Nationals qualifier in Albany.
“It was Jimmer and a bunch of guys that weren’t that good,” Hart said. “Jimmer almost beat us by himself.”
Fredette went on to team with current Penn State senior Talor Battle with the City Rocks. Despite their physical attributes — Battle went 5-9, 140 as a junior — the duo was so talented, that current Syracuse point guard Brandon Triche switched AAU teams because he wasn’t getting enough playing time behind them.
“I can’t get any minutes,'” Hart recalled the 6-4 Triche saying. “You’ve got a midget and a fat guy playing.”
“He didn’t understand why we loved them so much,” Hart said of Triche.
Fredette, a Glens Falls, N.Y., native who tops the nation in scoring at 28.8 points per game, is now a senior at Brigham Young and “Jimmer-mania” is sweeping the nation.
Fredette leads BYU (32-4) against Florida (28-7) Thursday night in a Southeast Regional semifinal in New Orleans (7:27, TBS).
Because the game is in New Orleans, Fredette is drawing comparisons to the late “Pistol” Pete Maravich, who averaged better than 40 points per game in each of his three seasons at Louisiana State and later starred with the New Orleans Jazz.
“I know he’s an unbelievable scorer in college,” Fredette told reporters Wednesday in New Orleans. “I’ve heard of him and I’ve watched some things on him, some documentaries, and some things that he did in practice. And he was a great story. He was a great player. He really kind of revolutionized the game to do some of the things that he did.”
Fredette isn’t close to Maravich’s college stats.
“Pistol” Pete averaged 43.8, 44.2 and 44.5 points, respectively, in three seasons at LSU and finished his career there with 3,667 points.
In his last three seasons at BYU, Fredette has averaged 16.2, 22.1 and 22.8 points. In four seasons, he has tallied 2,567 points, more than 1,000 fewer than Maravich totaled in three seasons playing for his father.
Still, BYU coach Dave Rose sees comparisons.
“I think the common denominator between Pete Maravich and Jimmer is they’re relentless,” Rose said. “If they have 30, they want another basket. If they have 40, they want another basket. I can vouch, in Jimmer’s case, is it has nothing to do with points. What it has to do with is trying to get his team to win games.”
“Jimmer-mania” began to take flight in January after Fredette scored 39 points in a Jan. 5 win at UNLV.
He topped the 40-point plateau three times in a four-game span later that month, putting up 47 in a Jan. 11 victory at Utah and 43 in a Jan. 26 victory over then-No. 4 San Diego State.
Then he poured in a career-high 52 points against New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference semifinals, the same point total he tallied as an eighth-grader against the City Rocks.
In two NCAA Tournament wins over Wofford and Gonzaga, Fredette is averaging 33 points a game.
“He was always crafty, always had the heavy body where he could score in traffic,” Hart said. “He could always create ways to get his jump shot off. He could always do that. It’s just obvious he’s doing it much better now.”
“Jimmer-mania” has reached such extremes that fans hold up signs touting Fredette as a future American President.
“I saw something that said Jimmer and Romney 2012, so that’s kind of funny,” Fredette said. “And I just take it all in stride. Like I said, it’s great to have people really like you and your teammates and your whole team. That’s the position you want to be in. You’d rather have that than have them hate you.”
On occasion, Rose has had to scale back Fredette’s media commitments because it’s been too time-consuming and overwhelming for the young man.
“There’s been a couple times when on a Monday morning he said, ‘Coach, I need a break,’ and we’d have to kind of shut things down for the week and just have him do the obligations that our team has locally,” Rose said. “But for the most part we’ve never had a conversation like — where I’ve needed to — he’s gotten so excited or I feel like it’s out of control. It’s all been kind of managed between the two of us.
“I’m telling you, he’s as humble and approachable and as likable as a person today as he was the first day he stepped on campus.”
Hart said Fredette’s family, including his father, Al, and brother, T.J., an aspiring rapper, always filled Jimmer with confidence.
“Jimmer’s people have believed in him more and better than any coach,” Hart said. “Jimmer was gassed up by his own brother and father. They told him at young age, ‘You’re the best, you’re going to be a pro.’ They put this confidence in him. That’s a home-grown confidence instilled at a young age.”
With BYU set on making a deep run in the tournament, some wonder how Fredette’s game will translate to the next level.
ESPN analyst Chad Ford moved Fredette up to No. 12 on his big board after the San Diego State win in January.
“NBA scouts are tough to impress but even they are giving in,” Ford tweeted. “Huge game for his draft stock tonight. San Diego State has NBA-caliber athletes. If Fredette can score against them, he can score in the NBA.”
Fredette was asked again in New Orleans about how his game might translate to the next level.
“I think it would translate very well,” he said. “I’m able to get my shot off, off the dribble, and be able to use the pick-and-roll effectively. So it just depends on the system that I get to play in. It’s all about situation, being able to get to the right system, and if I do that, I think I could be very successful.”
Not bad for a “chubby” little guy from upstate New York.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.