BYU basketball: Jimmer Fredette's rise is no surprise to those who knew him
T.J. Fredette also organized workouts that took place at the Latter-day Saints church in Queensbury, N.Y., where their father had a key to the gym. T.J. Fredette ran Jimmer through a drill known as the Gantlet, where he would dribble down a dark hallway, trying to avoid knocking over pictures of Jesus hanging on the wall. Once Jimmer mastered handling the ball in the dark, T.J. had friends jump out of doorways to prepare him for the unexpected.
"He's a creative, creative kid," Jimmer said of T.J., an aspiring rapper. "Some of the things he made me do, that's a little weird looking back on it. But it helped."
After Jimmer turned 18, T.J. Fredette took him to the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility in Wilton to play pick-up games against inmates. John Montgomery, the recreational director at the medium-security prison, said those inmates committed crimes ranging from drunken driving to manslaughter.
Fredette recalled the inmates betting cigarettes on the games and said he could hear them changing their bets as he started hitting shots. "It made us more mentally tough," Fredette said.
Fredette has not played at Mount McGregor since high school, but some of those inmates who competed against him hooted and hollered when he scored 37 points in an NCAA tournament first-round game against Florida last year.
"They hadn't heard of him when he came in, but they're really enjoying it now," said Montgomery, who has worked at Mount McGregor for 19 years.
While Fredette's Mormon faith is part of the reason he chose BYU, it was also his best offer. He grew up rooting for Syracuse and North Carolina, and just about every recruiter on the East Coast spied him playing for the high-profile City Rocks. But offers came only from BYU, Utah, Siena, Fordham and Massachusetts.
"I think everyone in the Northeast fell into the same trap," said Steve DeMeo, an assistant at Hofstra who scouted Fredette while at Providence. "I think basketball coaches are guilty of stereotyping, and to get past that you have to watch the kid play a lot of times."
BYU assistant Dave Rice said it took two possessions for the Cougars' staff members to realize they needed to recruit Fredette seriously when he came to camp there as a sophomore. The Cougars made Fredette their top recruiting priority. Even coach Dave Rose flew to watch Fredette play football his junior season on a rain-soaked night. Rose also recalls nervously spying the gym during the July recruiting period to be sure that no powerhouses swooped in and stole him. Still, the BYU staff could not envision him as anything beyond an all-league player.
"Can you project that a guy is someday going to become the face of college basketball his senior year?" Rice said. "It's hard to predict that."
Both Rose and Rice played on pantheon teams in college. Rice won a national title at Nevada-Las Vegas in 1990, and Rose was part of the Phi Slama Jama team at Houston that lost to North Carolina State in the 1983 national title game.
The Mountain West Conference lacks an ESPN contract, which reduces the program's visibility, Rose said. Still, BYU is headed to its fifth straight NCAA tournament despite the fact that on Selection Sunday, Rose said, every year "people don't know a lot about our team."
He added, "As far as national exposure is concerned, the TV contract with the Mountain has made that more of a challenge." (BYU will join the West Coast Conference next season.)
Fredette did not immediately show signs that he would be a surefire NBA first-round pick. He arrived on campus weighing 210 pounds and was unable to run a six-minute mile. Though he did not start a game as a freshman, he now laughs when recalling that he "almost died" at his first conditioning session at BYU.
Fredette is now a chiseled 195 pounds with the broad shoulders of a strong safety and a vertical jump of 36 inches, and he can run a 5:36 mile. The BYU strength coach Justin McClure teases Fredette for his runner's watch and running tights, but said there was a simple reason Fredette has improved: "His work ethic is amazing."
So is his remarkable story. From Glens Falls, N.Y., to the mountains of Utah to a rare national television game. As his legend grows, Fredette seems to keep outrunning expectations.
"I don't think anyone predicted he'd be this good," Hart said. "At the same time, I wouldn't have doubted anything that he could do."
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