PROVO — The sign in the Marriott Center read: "Jimmer, pick your rafter."
Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery walked off the Marriott Center floor as Mountain West Conference champions, the final time any BYU basketball players can do so. It was only fitting for the leaders of one of the best teams in school history.
After racing past Wyoming 102-78 on Saturday and securing the regular-season title in the Cougars' final MWC season, BYU cut down the nets. Rings will be ordered, and they now have the No. 1 seed in this week's league tournament in Las Vegas.
This season might have been the best coaching campaign of Dave Rose's career.
One might ask why. After all, he had Jimmer; they have scored 2,570 points.
They stand 28-3 and swept everyone in the Mountain West but New Mexico.
Still, people may not fully understand what it took, the fragile part of balancing it all.
"The second half of the season was as hard to manage as any I've had," said Rose.
Since Jimmermania hit in early January, the Cougars found themselves perched atop a ticking time bomb as pressure mounted almost daily. When the Cougars defeated No. 4 San Diego State on national TV a week ago, it was monumental, a fitting climax.
Then everything went in reverse within 48 hours.
Rose and BYU had to wade through a lot of challenges en route to this MWC title. The biggest of course, was the tempest of the past seven days.
At no time in school history has a BYU athletic team received this much worldwide scrutiny for this extended time. That includes 1984, when LaVell Edwards' football team won the college football's national championship.
No BYU team has ever made SportsCenter, CNN, Good Morning America, Fox News, NBC's Nightly News, Diane Sawyer, Jay Leno in short order, or become Google's top search or the top trending tweet on Twitter like this team.
"People don't realize how hard it is," said Rose. "To manage things after every game is very tough. To have great senior leaders like Jackson Emery and Jimmer Fredette, to have them step up and talk to the team, it means a lot."
In weeks leading up to this past hectic week, Rose needed to make some decisions on how he'd manage pressure, the emotion and demand for his players, especially Fredette.
BYU basketball had to develop the hardness of a woodpecker's beak.
Rose lost 6-foot-9 sophomore starter Chris Collinsworth for the season at the first of the year. For a team missing big bodies, that was a major setback.
Still, protecting his big men in a zone defense, they won.
Back in July, before independence, the MWC gave SDSU, the projected frontrunner, the best schedule — a week off before playing BYU twice. The second break went to defending champion New Mexico — getting BYU immediately after the Aztecs — the latest time was a midweek Lobo date when the Cougars don't practice or meet on Sundays. They dealt with it.
BYU's popularity forced Rose to coach more than basketball. He had to delve into marketing, public relations and psychiatry. He's had students camping out for tickets the last six home games, all sellouts. Pressure.
If you think having a superstar is easy, you are wrong. Other players must be managed, regardless of high character and friendships.
In February, the university hosted a teleconference media day during the week so Fredette could do as many interviews as possible. The demand was so high, one senior athletic department official said Fredette could do eight hours of interviews a day.
Rose moved the twice-a-week media availability for local press before practice instead of after; in part to have an end time to interviews so work could get done.
After losing to New Mexico here on Wednesday, recognizing his team's emotional state after losing teammate Brandon Davies to an honor code violation, Rose told his players to take Thursday off and forget about basketball.
At school, for the past two months, Fredette found it hard to attend classes. He was a rock star. Students he sat by in class with relative peace back in October now wanted his autograph, others wanted him at their little brother's birthday party. Add up every 20-second conversation times a hundred and chit-chat became a verbal train with no caboose in sight. It became unmanageable for Fredette on campus and in his private life.
Piles of mail arrived for the star to the basketball office from all over the world. BYU basketball secretary Zeffie Barton took the mail to the Marriott Center floor daily for Fredette to sign items. Sensing how it was looking in front of his teammates, Fredette politely asked Barton if this could be done in her office in private.
In ways few can imagine, the team has endured an exhilarating and exciting emotional ride this season. But it's also been a roller coaster with curves, dips and peaks that Rose has had to manage to avoid an impending implosion.13 comments on this story
"At that moment, this one feels like the best," said Rose of his team's MWC title. "Being the last one in the league means something. This team took a lot of shots from some very good teams and now they'll have a banner in the rafter to look at always."
It was only fitting, before All-American Fredette and Rose climbed the ladder to cut down the cotton, Davies made the reach on the steps and take his piece of the net, a non-playing team member of a title team that will be known for all time as one of the very best — regardless of what happens the next two weeks.
"We'll have records to look back on when we're old men," said Fredette. "We'll be taking about this season for the rest of our lives."