PROVO — The BYU Cougars have been nationally ranked for 19 straight weeks for good reason.
From top to bottom, the Cougars' roster is filled with talent.
"We've got really good basketball players on this team," BYU coach Dave Rose said.
But there's also the great player. The superstar. Everywhere the Cougars have gone this season they've had to deal with the Jimmer Fredette sideshow.
When BYU hits the road, the preseason eight-team All-American senior is clearly the star of the show. In every town, Fredette's the only BYU player that local sportswriters and sportscasters want to write about and talk about. The story of how Fredette was groomed and toughened in basketball skills by his brother, uncle and prison inmates while growing up in Glens Falls, N.Y., has been told so many times that it's become national basketball folklore.
The BYU game against Vermont in Glens Falls in early December was, for all intents and purposes, the Jimmer Fredette Showcase. It was his game, his stage. The rest of the Cougars tagged along simply to enjoy the pageantry. And they witnessed quite a show.
Arguably, Fredette is the biggest marquee name for BYU basketball in the past three decades. To those outside of Provo, he is BYU basketball right now.
Normally, attention like that comes with side effects. Jealousy and individual demands tend to rise to the surface and cause turmoil. You see it all the time. It's a common theme in collegiate athletics.
With this BYU team, however, the constant national attention on its superstar has only been a bond. Every Cougar has cherished and thrived in their role in Fredette's national farewell tour. In fact, this group might have better team chemistry than any team Rose has coached in his six seasons as BYU's head guy.
"It's a little uncomfortable as a coach to have a player who gets that much attention, but I'm really pleased with how our players have handled it," Rose said. "And I think it speaks mostly to Jimmer and Jimmer's personality. He is such a likeable and approachable guy, and his approach to the game is so team-oriented that players understand his No. 1 focus is to help the team win. I also think they really respect his game and know he's a really good player."
The Cougars recognize that any recognition Fredette gets, BYU's basketball program gets as well. Obviously (Fredette's favorite word), Fredette has been a huge part of BYU winning, and that winning has the Cougars currently among the nation's most respected programs. It helps in recruiting, in scheduling and in NCAA Tournament seeding.
"They are such high-character guys that they understand that those things that are happening are good for our program and our team. And these guys are all team guys," Rose said.
Fredette's basketball style also seems to be the perfect compliment to his fellow Cougars.
For three seasons Jackson Emery has thrived with his away-from-the-ball strengths, spotting up outside when Fredette is double-teamed to burn teams with his long-range shooting. Emery is at his best in the open floor, with or without the ball in Fredette's hands.
"In order for Jimmer to be good, the rest of us guys have to be good," Emery said. "I think when teams pay too much attention to Jimmer, we've done a pretty good job of making them pay."
Forwards Chris Collinsworth and Noah Hartsock thrive on garbage hoops around the basket, dishes in the paint and open shots created when their defender sneaks away to help guard Fredette. Time and time again they've burned teams that have taken them lightly. Hartsock scored 13 straight in Thursday's win at Buffalo.
"We have different players stepping up every night," Hartsock said. "And Jimmer is really good at recognizing where the open shots are and we have players who are capable of knocking down those shots. As long as we keep winning we're going to be pretty happy with the roles we all play."
Swingmen Kyle Collinsworth, Charles Abouo and Stephen Rogers provide the Cougars with the defensive stops and rebounds needed to run. All three are also outstanding at finishing at the rim and converting on open looks.
"I think our guys have done an excellent job of doing whatever roles we've needed on any given night to get things done. Everyone has stepped up in different capacities to help us win," Fredette said.
When teams focus on doubling Fredette outside and keeping him out of the paint, that leaves center Brandon Davies matched up one-on-one in the post. He's proven to be almost unstoppable in those situations. When Creighton's defense was totally focused on Fredette, Davies sealed the win by scoring BYU's final 14 points and finishing with a career-high 24. He's now scored in double figures in six straight games.
"Everyone contributes on this team in one way or another," Davies said. "Jimmer is a great player and when he gets most of the attention, that just gives the rest of us opportunities. Fortunately we've been able to take advantage of that."
Fredette himself hasn't been slowed by the defensive attention he's getting these days. With his final season of Mountain West Conference play set to begin next week, he's averaging 25 points per game and has scored more than 30 three times. On Thursday he scored a season-high 34 points, including 28 in the second half.
Fredette's senior season, so far, has tracked exactly as billed. And he credits much of that to his teammates.
"We don't really talk very much about the notoriety that's come to myself and the team this year. We've been able to stay focused on our team and focused on trying to get better. We have a really close group here, with guys that really like each other. We don't really care who gets the attention or the credit, we just like that we are getting attention and respect, and that we're winning," Fredette said.
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