PROVO — With all of the national hype and hoopla surrounding Jimmer Fredette, a plethora of articles are being written about BYU's superstar point guard seemingly every hour of every day.
But Sports Illustrated reporter Kelli Anderson has managed to find an angle on Fredette that hasn't been explored much to this point — the relationship with his brother, TJ.
"I think Kelli did a really good job of getting details that hadn't been out there," Sports Illustrated senior editor Trisha Blackmar told the Deseret News. "It is tough for a magazine like ours to come on to a story that has been covered by different markets and to put new information out there and dig a little deeper. The story shows the kind of influence the Fredette brothers have had on each other." By now, everyone knows of Jimmer's close bond with his older brother, and how TJ spent countless hours helping Jimmer develop his game. Everyone knows that TJ is an aspiring rapper and has written songs in tribute to Jimmer.
Yet the relationship runs much deeper than that.
Back in 2006, after undergoing surgery for a torn left ACL, TJ suffered damage to his vestibular system, affecting both his spatial orientation and balance.
In "A Real Jimmer Dandy," which will appear in the Jan. 31 edition of "Sports Illustrated," Anderson writes: "TJ spent the better part of a year on his parents' couch, so sick and depressed that 'I feared he would do something crazy to end the agony,' (TJ's and Jimmer's mother) Kay wrote in an e-mail. There was one light in the darkness: Jimmer. 'The only thing that kept me going was his games; they were everything to me,' says TJ.
Says Kay, 'I don't know what would have happened if TJ didn't have that to hold on to. Jimmer was saving TJ's life, and he didn't even realize it.' "
Jimmer Fredette has been on the magazine's radar since last season, Anderson told the Deseret News, and she had done some reporting on his backstory in March, when Fredette poured in 37 points against Florida in helping lead the Cougars to their first NCAA Tournament victory in 17 years.
"His play in the last several weeks and the national buzz it has generated made this the perfect time to finally do a story on him," Anderson said.
"He's definitely been someone we've been following since that breakout game against Florida," said Blackmar. "We all thought he was one of the most exciting players this season, for sure. Even though he doesn't get a lot of television exposure, he's really become a folk hero. People are tracking his scoring and he has an excitement around him. We felt like we needed to do this story now. It seemed like the right time."
Being profiled in Sports Illustrated can be viewed as good or bad. While the publication is well-respected and widely read, there's a certain stigma associated with the "Sports Illustrated jinx," where certain teams or players who are featured in the magazine's pages fall short of expectations afterward.
"The bulk of the letters we receive are about the S.I. Jinx," Blackmar said. "Hopefully we haven't jinxed Jimmer in any way by putting him in the magazine. We certainly didn't seem to, with his performance against San Diego State."
Indeed, Fredette scored 43 points — the most ever by a BYU player at the Marriott Center — on Wednesday night in the No. 9 Cougars' 71-58 victory over No. 4 San Diego State before a sellout crowd of 22,700. Fredette has scored 40 or more points in three of his last four games, including a 42-point performance at Colorado State on Jan. 22.
The magazine toyed with the idea of doing a feature story on Fredette in its college basketball preview in November. Instead, Sports Illustrated worked with DC Comics to create a cartoon of Fredette for that issue.
"He fit so perfectly into that because he has this larger-than-life story that DC Comics did a great job capturing in cartoon form," Blackmar said.
Anderson's impressions of Fredette?
"He's a friendly, hard-working guy who is a fearless competitor on the court," she said. "He seems unaffected by the hype except for this: the more attention he gets, from the media, from fans and from defenses, the better he seems to play, especially on the road."
In her story, Anderson wrote that Jimmer has brought a lot of happiness to the college basketball world, just as he has for TJ.
"He is fiercely competitive while remaining unassuming and likable. Even Fredette's victims find him hard to resist. After Fredette scored 49 points at Arizona last season, Wildcats coach Sean Miller didn't shake his hand; he gave him a hug. Utah fans gave him an ovation as he left the court after his virtuoso performance earlier this month. 'I told the staff in a meeting a couple years ago,' says BYU coach Dave Rose, 'that if Jimmer's personality stays the same and he keeps playing like he's playing, he's going to be a story like Steph Curry or Larry Bird, where everyone wants to see him play and wants to be around him.' "
The Jan. 31 issue of Sports Illustrated is available on newsstands now.