Folks in Glens Falls, N.Y., are treating the return of BYU All-America guard Jimmer Fredette like a visit from Michael Jordan.
The local newspaper has published an eight-page special section, there was a press conference at the airport with Fredette upon his arrival, an assembly at the school, the mayor and City Council have been involved in the setup for more than a year, and local merchants and the population in general are cranked up. If it were 1964, he'd be their Paul McCartney.
Fredette is a folk hero in this small town of 15,000, and when he takes to the court against Vermont in the Civic Center on Wednesday night, it will be a circus. Might as well have dragged in the elephants, trapeze artists and bearded women.
"Oh, it is huge, he's just like a movie star here," said Jeff Aunchman, who owns Fredette's favorite Italian restaurant, Angelina's Pizzeria on Quaker Road in Queensbury, which is to Glens Falls what Provo is to Orem.
The Fredette return tour at the Civic Center comes a few days before the Kenny Rogers Christmas Tour. BYU vs. Vermont tickets are $20 for standing-room-only. Seat tickets go for $30, $45, $60 and $85.
The Glens Falls City Council approved a TV commercial produced by Pepe Productions to air during Wednesday's broadcast on CBS College Sports, extolling how great a place the city is to live.
"I get at least 10 to 15 people coming up to me every day talking about this game, talking about Jimmer, talking about his career. It's definitely a hot topic for our community."
Aunchman has a special interest in Fredette. He and his twin brother Greg are best friends with Jimmer's older brother T.J. Although Jeff, Greg and T.J. are seven years older than Jimmer, they grew up playing against the BYU star on the playground and fields of Glens Falls.
"I've known Jimmer since he was a baby," Aunchman said. "I've known him his whole life. I used to compete in sports with him when I was 14 and he was 7. He would go against us; he was fearless. That kid's got it in him to win."
Now 28, Aunchman says he went up against Fredette in every sport imaginable, from baseball to basketball, football, soccer, kickball and street hockey. He remembers the playground outdoor hoop where Fredette developed his skills to drive the key and finish at the rim among taller, older guys.
Even back then, Aunchman could see it coming. The Fredette kid had it because he competed and had the fire.
"He has a competitive nature and a will to win," he said. "He'd get so upset when he lost; he hated to lose even when going up against those who were 14 and he was 7. That is a big difference in development at that age, but he loved going up against us. Jimmer never wanted us to take it easy on him. He'd get mad if we did. He just hated to lose."
When the older guys played against Fredette, if anybody complained about letting a little kid in their group, they'd face the wrath of older brother T.J., who "fixed" things so Jimmer was included, said Aunchman.
"I remember from (when he was) a little kid that he'd be outstanding at any sport he would play. It didn't matter, he was a hard worker. Not only was he a competitor, but he was humble. That's a good combination," said Aunchman.
As intense as Fredette is on the court, he doesn't carry that attitude off the court, said Aunchman. It is a trait those in Provo know very well.
"He's just the nicest, quietest kid you'll ever be around. He's very humble, a great kid."
How dedicated is Aunchman to his Fredette worship? Well, he's made the trip to Provo to watch BYU games in the Marriott Center. He knows many townsmen who've followed Fredette's college career haven't had that chance to see him in person, and that's why BYU's visit to Glens Falls to play Vermont is such a very big deal.
"Everybody is excited. It is a chance to see him again in person, something many didn't think was possible since he left to go to college so far way."
Angelina's Pizzeria will host Fredette and the BYU team tonight for dinner.
"I feel blessed to be friends," said Aunchman. "It is an honor that the team will be stopping by to have a pregame meal. Everybody is excited about that — his family, my family and all the people who have been so close."
Sports Illustrated's comic book poster that included Fredette didn't have it too far off for those who see things from the Glens Falls perspective.
The hometown hero returns.
Graphic novel stuff.
"The people there are the nicest people; it is a blue-collar type town where everybody works hard and knows everybody," Fredette told reporters on Monday.
Fredette said he was "flabbergasted" when he learned Glens Falls and BYU's administration pulled off a game with Vermont at the Civic Center.
"They key is still to get a win," Fredette said. He'd like BYU to leave town like it came: undefeated.
The rest is nice noise.
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