Tom Smart, Deseret News
GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — Jimmer Fredette is going back to where it all started. Back to where he signed the basketball contract with his brother. Back to where he learned to dribble a basketball in a dark church hallway. Back to where he toughened his game in prison yards. Back to T.J., his older brother-mentor-coach, and the warm embrace of Glens Falls.
Fredette, BYU's preseason All-America guard, is going home, and he's taking his teammates with him. The 21st-ranked Cougars will play Vermont in, of all places, Glens Falls, N.Y. (pop. 14,000). The nearest college basketball team is Sienna, 40 minutes away, but Glens Falls is Fredette's hometown, and that's reason enough to bring two college basketball teams to the 5,700-seat Civic Center for a game on Dec. 8. Ticket sales have been so brisk that they've resorted to selling standing-room-only tickets — 400 to date.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for residents of the area who have followed Jimmer since his days as a high school player," says Ed Bartholomew, the town's director of economic development and the man charged with organizing the game. "He's a very popular figure here. To have him come back home with a Top 20 team and as a preseason All-American, following a Sports Illustrated story about him and his team, there is tremendous enthusiasm for the game."
Last September more than 300 people camped outside the Civic Center just to buy tickets for the game, which is being billed as the "Hometown Classic." One of the campers was Fredette's father, Al, who spent the night outdoors because he wasn't sure he would have enough tickets to accommodate a couple of neighbor ladies who requested them.
"It's the talk of the town," says T.J. Fredette, Jimmer's brother. "There have been newspaper articles almost on a weekly basis since the game was announced. The kids all look up to Jimmer. They're always calling to see how he is doing, and when he comes home they want to be around him. People go to bars to watch the BYU's games or watch them online. Whatever it takes."
Trying to make good on a recruiting promise to Fredette to play a game in the East, BYU searched for an opponent and a venue for their star's senior season. "It was hard to get a game," says BYU coach Dave Rose. "We looked at a 300-mile radius. We looked at New York — Madison Square Garden, St. John's. We looked at Syracuse. We contacted Buffalo. Then the mayor of Glens Falls got wind of it. He helped us set it up there and find a team."
Among those in attendance at Wednesday's game will be more than a dozen NBA scouts and representatives, including BYU alum and Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge. Fredette is arguably the best BYU basketball player since Ainge, who was named the nation's Player of the Year in 1981. Fredette announced his arrival on the national basketball scene a year ago when he scored a BYU-record 49 points against Arizona. For the next month his performance suffered from a bout with mono, but in March he scored 45 points against TCU and 37 points in a double-overtime win over Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament. He averaged 22 points and nearly 5 assists a game as a junior.
Following the season, Fredette tested his prospects for the NBA Draft. He worked out for four NBA teams in one week — Oklahoma City, Boston, New Jersey, New York — and consulted with several NBA execs, but especially Ainge.
"I talked to him many times," says Fredette. "He had gone through the process. He explained the advantages of staying in school and leaving. But one thing he said is that he loved his senior year, and not knowing where I would be picked it might not be worth giving up my senior year."
Fredette returned for his senior season armed with an NCAA-sanctioned, seven-figure insurance policy against a career-ending injury, the premium of which will be based on where he is taken in the draft.
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