PROVO — BYU head basketball coach Dave Rose was asked recently about Jimmer Fredette's career-high minutes played average and potential corresponding fatigue issues as the Cougars head down the Mountain West stretch and into the madness of March.
"When (Jimmer) told me he wanted to come back for his senior year, he told me he wanted to come back and 'play.' " Rose said. "So I said, 'Get yourself in shape to come back and play,' and he has done that."
As BYU's best player and a possible national player of the year, Fredette is expected to be on the floor for the majority of the 40 minutes, and as the point guard, the amount of time spent handling or shooting the ball will dwarf that of his teammates. Even so, Fredette's team-high season averages of 34.2 minutes per game overall and 37.4 mpg in conference play are notable and make his consistently outstanding performance all the more remarkable.
Fredette is playing a ton of minutes, seeing nonstop defensive pressure, and while BYU has surged to the top of the league with a 6-1 start, the opportunities to rest him have been infrequent.
During the 2009-10 season, when he contracted mononucleosis at the start of the new year, Fredette scored 25 percent of BYU's points, with that figure dropping to 24 percent in conference play as Fredette battled illness for much of the league campaign.
This season, at full health, Fredette has scored 33 percent of BYU's total points, with that number jumping to a whopping 41 percent in MWC play.
Fredette's fellow starters are also combining to carry an unusually heavy load in conference play. Four of BYU's five starters are averaging 31 minutes per game or more, with three of them (Fredette, Jackson Emery and Noah Hartsock) among the nine most-played MWC players in league games. No other conference contender has more than one player in the top 10 in conference minutes played.
BYU's starting five (with the three aforementioned players joined by Kyle Collinsworth and Brandon Davies) have accounted for Rose-era MWC highs in percentage of team minutes played, points scored, rebounds and assists.
In conference play only, this year's starters have been responsible for 81 percent of team minutes, 92 percent of points, 82 percent of rebounds and 91 percent of assists.
Last year's team set a school record for wins with corresponding starters' rates of 63 percent (minutes played), 62 percent (points), 53 percent (rebounds) and 69 percent (assists) in conference play.
Clearly, BYU's "first five" got a lot more rest last season, with BYU's bench proving to be the deepest of Rose's tenure.
This year's bench received a substantial blow with season-ending surgery for Chris Collinsworth, who was a main-line contributor this season. The preseason departure of guard Michael Loyd Jr. also affected the depth of this year's reserve corps, which doesn't feature a prolific scorer the likes of Jonathan Tavernari, who came off the bench last season and left BYU as the school's all-time leading 3-point shooting leader and member of the 1,500-point club.
Yet, despite the difference in team composition from last year to this year, BYU has the same 20-2 record after 22 games. BYU is relying more on its starters this time around, but its starting five is versatile, experienced and well-rounded, led by perhaps the most spectacular player in Cougar hoops history. While not scoring a lot of points, BYU's bench players have made important contributions in recent games, and there will yet be games in which unsung heroes will play significant roles.
Starter fatigue may be a legitimate concern, and it would be nice to occasionally get certain players more rest than they are getting. At the same time, Rose is not about to let speculation over player durability change the way he coaches.
"A coach worries about a lot of things," says Rose. "But in the middle of a game, you worry about winning the game."
Greg Wrubell is the radio play-by-play "Voice of the Cougars," and hosts BYU Football and Basketball Coaches' Shows on KSL Newsradio and KSL 5 Television. Wrubell's blog "Cougar Tracks" can be found at byu.ksl.com. "Behind the Mic" is published every Tuesday during the BYU Football and Basketball seasons. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org