SALT LAKE CITY — In this the Season of Jimmer, let's give a salute to brothers. Or, more accurately, big brothers. After all, as everyone knows, there would be no Jimmer without T.J., his big brother. Jimmer might be, well, just another Jim, if T.J. hadn't pushed him to greatness.
He convinced him to sign a homemade contract that committed him to basketball dreams and led him through years of custom-made special drills to hone his skills.
"T.J. was a huge part of my success," says Jimmer, who will lead BYU against Florida in today's Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. " ... It was a big part of my growth."
But you already know all this if you've followed Jimmermania. What you might not realize is that his story is not original.
Do you know what's the common denominator of the top four scorers in BYU history — Jimmer Fredette (2,567 points), Danny Ainge (2,467), Michael Smith (2,319) and Devin Durrant (2,285)?
Let Durrant answer the question: "I would suggest it is that each had an older brother or brothers that beat on them, inspired them and pushed them. They also opened doors for their younger siblings."
Ainge battled not one but two older brothers, Doug and David, in intense games in the yard that were about as friendly as an Israel-Arab border skirmish.
Smith was pushed around by his older brother Clark.
Durrant survived regular duels with his older brother Matt.
The younger brothers were pushed around and pummeled, but they proved to be the real beneficiaries. All of them went on to athletic careers that far outstripped their older brothers' successes.
Fredette is a frontrunner to win the win national Player of the Year honors and has become a national sensation, averaging a nation-leading 28 points a game.
Ainge is the only high school athlete ever to be named first-team All-American in three sports (football, basketball, baseball) and went on to become the 1981 national Player of the Year at BYU and then a Major League Baseball player and an NBA all-star.
Smith, a prep All-American in football (quarterback) and basketball, was a BYU All-American and the first-round pick of the Boston Celtics in 1989.
Durrant, who held BYU's school record for season scoring average (27.9) before Fredette broke it this season, was named to the All-American team and was a second-round pick of the Indiana Pacers in 1984.
"Each of us had an older brother who played an important role," says Durrant.
Ainge and his older brothers liked to play a game they called "burnout" on the front lawn of their Oregon home. Doug and David would throw a baseball at their little brother as hard as they could; Danny either caught the ball with his hands or his face (don't try this at home). When they weren't playing burnout they were playing two-on-one football, with Doug and David covering their little brother.
"It was brutal — I mean it," Don Ainge, the boys' father, once told Sports Illustrated. "I'd burn the ball to them and they'd cream each other. Horrible things. David and Doug never let Danny win. I mean never."
Danny recalled playing one-on-one basketball twice a day with David. "I honestly don't think we ever got to the end of a game," says Danny. "Every single one ended in a fight."
Durrant recalls the same upbringing. "My older brother Matt pounded on me for years. If he couldn't find someone to play with I was the answer. We'd play one-on-one, and he'd just pound me. I'd usually go in the house crying. He always beat me. He didn't benefit from it, but I learned to score over a bigger guy playing against my brother."
Older brothers provided another benefit for these little brothers: Not only did they have a formidable challenger in the house, they were allowed to play in pickup games with and against their brother's older friends.
"(Matt) gave me the opportunity to play with his friends, all four years older than I, when they needed an extra guy," says Durrant. "Whenever they needed an extra guy, I was a natural. I was there to try to defend and try to rebound and to pass the ball, but never to shoot. They would just take the opportunity to beat on me. It was an open door where I had the opportunity to play with older guys that I never would have had without an older brother."
Similarly, Jimmer was welcomed by his brother's friends, even though they were seven years his senior. "He was just part of the group and no one ever questioned it," T.J. told the Deseret News earlier this season. "If we had an outsider who came in and asked, 'Why is your little brother here?' we'd end that quick."
The pickup games against the older kids forced little brothers to learn to become more resourceful — to become a scorer, for instance, as well as an outside shooter, a player who could dribble to shots and get them off over, under and around taller, heavier opponents and deal with the physicality that comes with it.
Says Durrant, "It just makes me wonder how often this pattern manifests itself in athletics here in Utah and across America — big brother blazes the trail and gets no recognition and little brother comes along and reaps the benefits of what big brother has learned. It would be interesting to do a study of what percentage of NBA players had an older brother."13 comments on this story
Recently, Nick Emery, a senior guard at Lone Peak High, was named the 5A MVP. He is the younger brother of Jackson Emery, BYU's second best player and all-time leader in steals. Kyle Collinsworth, who is seeing playing time for this year's BYU team as a freshman, is the younger brother and teammate of Chris Collinsworth. Utah State's Tai Wesley, the Player of the Year in the Western Atheltic Conference, is the younger brother of former BYU star Mekeli Wesley.
The next generation of little brothers is on the way.