— The name is a good place to start.
“That’s the first thing,” says T.J. Fredette. “His name. ‘Jimmer.’ It’s an original. It’s unique. You can do so much with that name.”
Indeed, no name in college basketball, perhaps in all of sports, has been so discussed, so ubiquitous, so verb-ed, as that of Jimmer Fredette, the 6-foot-2 senior guard at BYU. He is the nation’s leading scorer. By most every organization and account, its best player.
He is, without question, its most celebrated name.
Since BYU dismissed forward Brandon Davies for violating the school’s honor code, Fredette has shot more, scored more, been even more of the focus — if that were possible. BYU is a No. 3 seed for the NCAA tournament and if Fredette and the Cougars were to win their first two games (BYU opens Thursday against No. 14 Wofford), something they failed to do last year and which BYU hasn’t done since 1981, it would launch Jimmer’s World into another orbit.
The fuse was lit two months ago.
“It really blew up after that 47-point game against Utah,” continues T.J., Jimmer’s older brother, an aspiring rapper who became the family’s amateur spokesperson when the attention suddenly required a coordinator. “That’s when he hit the half-court shot. That’s when he got rock-star status.”
It wasn’t just the half-court shot in that Jan. 11 blowout against the Utes, it was the subsequent TV highlights. It was the relevance of his Top 10 team. It was Jimmer’s non-reaction. Who was this guy? Who makes half-court buzzer-beaters and acts as if he just made a free throw?
“I’m sure people thought he was cocky because he didn’t really celebrate,” T.J. says, “But he’s hit so many of those it’s not really surprising anymore. He probably made eight or 10 of those his senior year of high school. The court was smaller, but he would pull up and shoot from out there.”
Two weeks later, Fredette scored 43 against San Diego State and the NBA’s Kevin Durant tweeted that Jimmer was the world’s best scorer. Apparently, not sarcasm.
“You notice he didn’t say the best scorer in college,” says Coriann Fraughton, the second-leading scorer on BYU’s women’s team. “That was big-time.”
Jimmer madness had begun. He went on “Pardon the Interruption,” talked with Jim Rome, hopped between national shows as if he was promoting a movie. Soon after, BYU said no to all regional radio requests. A mid-major was turning down publicity.
“They’d say, ‘We just need five minutes,’” says Kyle Chilton, the team’s media relations director. “Yeah, but everybody wants five minutes.”
CBS picked up the Cougars’ rematch against San Diego State on Feb. 26 — the first and only time this season BYU appeared on network TV — and it got better ratings than Syracuse versus Georgetown or Florida against Kentucky. Last week, while the Big East Tournament was taking place at Madison Square Garden, the Washington Post sent its national college writer on the Jimmer beat, to the Mountain West Conference Tournament in Las Vegas.
Played ball with prisoners
Though he is in his fourth year of being a fantastic player, much of America has learned of Jimmer only the last few months: he grew up in northern New York near the Vermont border, and how his parents have remained together while amicably split on religion (his mom is Catholic; Jimmer, like his dad, became Mormon), and how his mother Kay insisted on the nickname Jimmer since the moment he was born, and how as a teenager he and T.J. would go to a local prison and play pick-up games with inmates who had earned the privilege through good behavior.
The legend says that’s where Jimmer learned his mental toughness. The truth is he made a half-dozen prison trips at most, but it is a cool story and he is usually too polite to correct the convenient theory.
The story of Jimmer’s name, though, is absolute fact. Kay gave her boys the family name James, but she also wanted them to be unique. T.J. is technically Timothy James Fredette, but no one has ever called him that.
Back in the late ’60s, Kay had a high school classmate who had a younger brother everyone called Jimmer. He had been born James, but given the nickname by a great uncle who went by “Frosty.”
“Everyone knows me as Jimmer,” says Jimmer St. Clair, a 53-year-old UPS worker who still lives in Whitehall, N.Y. “They’ve called me Jimmer from when I was 3-years-old.
“The other Jimmer’s basketball skills are a little better than mine were. I sat the bench, always on the end. About the only thing the other Jimmer and I have in common is we’re nice guys and we’re both religious.”
St. Clair, in fact, scored just one point in high school.
'He has that unique ability to create space'
Fredette doesn't look the part of a dangerous scorer, more like a movie underdog, if only “Rudy” had done grown 3 inches and done a few thousand more military presses.
Buying a ticket to the Cougars is like seeing your favorite rock band for the 20th time. It’s not if he will be good tonight, but how good? Which of his greatest hits is on the set list? The drive past three defenders? A floating runner? A running floater? A fade-away made possible by his bulldozing shoulders?
“That’s a special talent,” says New Mexico coach Steve Alford, who was once quite a college scorer himself, “when no matter how strong, athletic, big, small [a defender] you throw at him, he still has that unique ability to create space.”
The most notable of that space involves backing up. Fredette’s trademark is a casual jump shot from distant areas usually reserved for low-ticking shot clocks. A new observer might wonder why BYU’s opponents use a half-court press. Because if you don’t meet the team’s star at half court, he considers himself open and you risk being “Jimmered,” which means being embarrassed by someone who by first impression looks destined for a UPS job.
He’s the guy who’d have to beat you 10 times in a row one-on-one before you believed it, the guy who plays with such casualness you wonder if he knows they’re keeping score. His legs and wrists are so strong that when he notices a defender glance to the side looking for a screen, Fredette has already released his shot by the time the guy looks back. His bottom half is sometimes not even facing the basket when he leaves the ground.
At the Mountain West Tournament last week, the Jimmer poster count rivaled a professional wrestling event, most of them demonstrating the various grammatical uses of the name.
“Teach me how to Jimmer” ... “Jimmer Time!” ... “You Got Jimmered.”
In the semifinal against New Mexico, Alford’s best idea for defending Jimmer was keeping him off the free-throw line. The Lobos did. Fredette shot just one the entire game. And still scored 52 points. As he was taking 37 shots, he broke the school single-game scoring record and passed Danny Ainge as BYU’s career points leader, a record that looked impossibly out of reach before anyone knew Fredette would average 28 points a game this season.
In the media work area in the back of the Thomas & Mack Center, one reporter said Fredette should play with his right hand tied behind his back to make it fair. Another teased a fellow writer by saying, “You’re a poor man’s Jimmer.”
'No idea what the name means'
The young man and his name can apparently do about anything. He won MWC player of the week eight of the 17 weeks this season and every time he didn’t a dozen or two emails arrived at the conference headquarters in protest.
“The attention is a little crazy at times,” Fredette says.
It will only get wilder if BYU wins two games and is one of only 16 teams left to focus on. The Cougars haven’t had a seed as high as No. 3 in the last 30 years.
Fredette’s laid-back personality and small-town charm only seem to make him gleam brighter in the spotlight. Jimmer St. Clair, Fredette’s namesake, has never met the college star, even though he knows the Fredette family.
St. Clair appreciates Fredette’s humility, which you’d expect from a shy man who has had a cell phone for two years and still doesn’t know how to access the voicemail. He sees the T-shirts around Fredette’s hometown, Glens Falls, N.Y., where St. Clair works, and Whitehall, where he lives, and can’t help but feel a part of it. They read, “Fredette About It” and “You’ve Been Jimmered.”
Seems the whole sports world has been.
“I have no idea what the name means, but it stuck,” St. Clair says, “And I think Jimmer Fredette’s gonna have it stuck with him, too.”