A Name Worth Remembering
Jimmer Fredette is hoping to make BYU a household name
When it came time to name her youngest son Kay Taft was decidedly set on James. The problem was several other members of her extended family already went by Jim, Jimmy or the name she had already set her heart on for the newest member of her three children. Kay was looking for something unique, a name that once people heard it, they weren’t likely to forget it. It was with that goal in mind that she settled on Jimmer Fredette [her husband's surname] for the name by which the child would be known. More than 20 years later, Kay’s youngest son has done quite a bit of his own to ensure that his name is one people aren’t likely to forget.
Now entering his junior year at BYU, Fredette will be the focal point of a team that is in the midst of perhaps its greatest run of basketball the school has ever seen. The Cougars have won at least 25 games in each of the last three seasons, winning three consecutive Mountain West Conference regular season championships and earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament in each of those years. While the team has seen its share of talented players during this recent stretch – including conference players of the year Keena Young and Lee Cummard – those around the program feel this may be the deepest and most gifted roster BYU has had this decade. Having been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the first round each of the last three years, expectations to advance in the postseason are high in Utah and Fredette will find himself staring directly into the bright spotlight this year.
“It’s been frustrating in the postseason for us for a little while now,” he says. “Obviously it’s not a good feeling to get to the NCAA Tournament and lose in the first round. We definitely feel like we have a team this year that can get past that first game; we have to take care of business and get there first. Once we do that we think we can advance and that’s one of our goals as a program, to move forward.”
Much of that responsibility will fall on Fredette as well as senior swingman Jonathan Tavernari, the only two returning all-conference players in the entire Mountain West. Fredette, who served as a role player during his freshman years, burst onto the scene as a sophomore. Stepping into the role of starting point guard, the athletic floor general scored better than 16 ppg on nearly 50 percent shooting from the floor, all while dishing out more than four assists. His sudden meteoric rise to basketball stardom was almost as surprising as the decision that brought the northeast native more than 2,200 miles from home to begin his college career.
Fredette grew up in Glens Falls, NY, a modest town of 14,000 residents, less than an hour west of New Hampshire. Tucked away in the shadow of the Adirondack Mountains, the town’s most notable sports association may have been former Tampa Bay Lightning coach and ESPN personality Barry Melrose who currently resides there. Fredette never approached the ice though, but grew up following in the footsteps of his family, taking to both the hardwood and the gridiron.
Several of his uncles played college basketball, including one who suited up for Central Connecticut at the Division I level. His father was good enough to play football at the college level and his grandfather was a long time high school basketball coach. Fredette grew up playing against his father, uncles and older brother, something he credits making him a tough player from an early age.
“I was seven years younger than my brother but they would always get me in the games, so that’s kind of how I learned was playing at a higher level at a young age – that helped me become a better player.”
Fredette developed into a standout two sport athlete at Glens Falls High School, suiting up as a wide receiver on the football team and starring on the basketball team. He was such a good athlete, that before he declared his intentions to focus solely on hoops, Penn State was actively recruiting him to play football in the Big Ten. The signs for basketball stardom were too hard to ignore though. He earned All-State honors as a junior and senior and would finish his career ranked sixth on New York’s all-time scoring list with 2,404 points. In the spring and summer Fredette teamed with future Penn State star Talor Battle to form a lethal backcourt on the well known City Rocks AAU team.
Plenty of schools took notice of the upstate gem, including Syracuse, Wake Forest and Seton Hall. Ultimately it was BYU that won out in the battle to sign Fredette. As a follower of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints he saw attending the school as an opportunity to be in an environment where he was surrounded by his peers as well as play for a coaching staff that he had really started to connect with. Furthermore there were some benefits to attending a program that had less of an established reputation on the national scale.
“I knew I was going to be able to come in right away and get some playing time as a freshman,” Fredette says. “I know that if I had gone to another school I might have had to sit out and wait before I got my chance. I really wanted to make an impact right away and BYU was a place where I knew I’d be able to do that.”
BYU fans couldn’t be happier with their stars decision, now reflecting on the choice that was made more than two years ago now. Fredette has managed to distinguish himself on floor for more reasons than simply being one of just two players on the Cougars roster who resides in a state east of Oklahoma. The hardnosed point guard has already at a young age developed the ability to be equally as dangerous scoring the basketball as he is distributing it to his teammates.
While the coaching staff was happy to see a significant increase in Fredette’s scoring and assist numbers with more playing time as a sophomore, the tremendous rise in his shooting numbers really caught their attention.
“I think it’s an example of someone who came in and worked really hard as a freshman and accepted his role of coming off the bench,” says associate head coach Dave Rice. “He worked real hard on his game in the offseason, saw an opportunity as a sophomore and seized it. He became an all-conference player on a conference champion and a team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament. I think one of the other things too is that we played him exclusively as a shooting guard during his freshman season before we moved him to the point guard position as a sophomore.”
But Rice and the rest of the coaching staff aren’t satisfied with where their star junior is yet.
“I think that we need Jimmer to step up and become even more of a leader than he already is. There is an inherent leadership need you always need from your point guard and I think he’s ready to take that on. I think that the success he’s had gives him credibility with this teammates. I also think the success he’s had individually and with his team gives him confidence. The bigger the moment the better he is, the bigger the game the better he plays for us.”
That proved to be the case in several games for the Cougars last season. In their toughest non-conference game of the season – a matchup with Wake Forest – Fredette scored 23 points and handed out nine assists, helping to carry the offense with the Demon Deacons defense forcing star forward Lee Cummard into a 6-for-20 shooting performance.
In the final weeks of the regular season he posted back-to-back games of 28 and 25 points in crucial wins over San Diego State and Utah – wins that helped BYU clinch a share of its third straight Mountain West regular season championship. With the type of resume his team has put together in the last several years, does Fredette believe the notion that the Cougars will have a target on their back entering the 2009-10 season?
“I think so just because of the fact that we’ve won three years in a row. Obviously when you’re on top everyone is trying to get there – we’re trying to stay there. We’re going to have at target on our backs and teams are going to bring their A game against us every night, so we have to continue to work hard and do the best we can to weather the storm when it comes.”
Rice says the regular season conference championship is always the number one goal for both the coaches and the players, but knows that in order to make the next jump, there is more to be done.
“There’s no question there is another step we need to take and we don’t shy away from that,” he says. “We need to win NCAA Tournament games; we talk about that being the next step in the continued development of our program. Just because we’ve won the regular season conference championship three straight years, that’s a great accomplishment, but there’s more for us to do.”
While the postseason struggles BYU has faced may have prevented it from receiving the same notoriety as other consistent winners outside of the power conferences, there’s no question that Cougars are a team to be taken seriously. On the brink of embarking on perhaps the most successful season the school has ever experience, the value of being a part of establishing a winning program out west hasn’t been lost on Fredette.
“It’s been a good thing. I think the coaches have been doing a really good job of bringing in great recruits, putting in a winning system and just making us believe that we can be an elite program. Getting the chance to be a part of this and do some good things, it’s been exciting for me and I hope that we can continue to move forward.”
So do the thousands that will pack the Mariott Center this season. With a team that returns four starters and the first four players off the bench, there will be plenty of individuals to shoulder the load of bringing another 25-win season to BYU. Still, the eyes of many will be fixed on the talented point guard with the cult following; the New York floor general who grew up near the mountains but traveled thousands of miles to lace up his career.
For Kay Taft, who gave her son the unique name in hopes that he would stand out and be remembered, the residents of Provo, Utah aren’t likely to forget him anytime soon. If Jimmer Fredette has his way this season, the rest of the country won’t forget him either.