He was able to measure himself against some of the NBA's top players in Las Vegas last summer as one of 20 collegians chosen to play on the USA Men's Select Team. The team practiced and played against the USA national team, which was stocked with NBA stars — including Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Chauncey Billups, and Kevin Durant — and went on to win the world championships.
"They all knew who I was before I met them," says Fredette. "It was, 'Hey, Jimmer, how are you doing?' It made me feel like I belong."
One day Fredette was carrying his laundry in the hall of the team headquarters when Billups pulled up next to him. "Hey, Jimmer, I love your game," he said. "I watched you a lot throughout your college career. You remind me of myself when I played. Keep working hard and you're going to be here with us next year."
That's been the plan all along. Fredette is not the first boy to have NBA dreams, but he might be one of the few who followed a plan and regimen that was prepared for him by a doting older brother and then worked at it with a maturity beyond his years.
Set apart early
James Taft "Jimmer" Fredette, 21, is the youngest and tallest (6-2) of Al and Kay's three children — Lindsay is 30 and Timothy James "T.J." 28. Kay provided the nicknames that would follow the boys into adulthood. "She called me 'Jimmer' as a baby and liked it," says Jimmer. "She wanted it to be unique. It's been a good name."
If the name didn't set Jimmer apart, his religion did. The Fredettes were among the few Mormons in town. Al, a financial planner, is an LDS convert, and Kay is not a member, although she attends church meetings.
"I was the only Mormon in my school," Jimmer says. "But I was able to get involved with good friends through basketball."
They are an athletic family, with aunts and uncles who played collegiate sports. T.J. himself played two years of basketball for Adirondack Community College and loves the game. Jimmer, always precocious and big for his age, began playing organized basketball at four in a league for older kids.
His close connection with his older brother hastened his athletic development. Most older brothers are reluctant to let their little brothers tag along, especially with a seven-year age difference. But T.J. invited and encouraged Jimmer to hang out with his friends and to play in their pickup games, beginning at 7.
"I just loved being an older brother and Jimmer was the coolest kid," says T.J. "He was just fun and funny, and he listened. It made everything better having him around. My friends loved him like a little brother, too. He was just part of the group and no one ever questioned it. If we had an outsider who came in and asked, 'Why is your little brother here?' we'd end that quick."
The pickup games against the older, bigger kids produced a side benefit for Jimmer: It forced him to become not just a shooter, but a scorer — a player who found a way to dribble to shots and get them off over, under and around bigger opponents. At first the little guy was allowed to shoot unchallenged from outside, but that ended quickly when it became apparent he could drain those shots. He had to create scoring opportunities, and in the process he adapted to the physicality of scrapping with taller, heavier opponents near the basket.
These skills were evident by the time Rose signed Fredette at BYU. "We didn't know when we recruited him if he was a point guard or a two," says the coach. "We discovered he's much better with the ball in his hands. He can get to the rim with both hands and shoot threes off transition and sets. He is a special offensive player. He can score and create offense for himself and others."
T.J. saw potential and determination in Jimmer, and the two of them committed themselves to working toward an NBA career. T.J. made Jimmer his personal project, creating a series of unique drills to hone his brother's game.
They performed one drill on a small slab of concrete in the back yard. It required Jimmer to dribble the ball on the cement while wearing ski gloves — "It makes it harder to feel the ball and dribble," says Jimmer — and keep it away from his older brother even while the latter was trying to knock him off the concrete and steal the ball.
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