Mike Terry, Deseret News
PROVO — What will surprise NBA scouts the most this week when they probe, test, measure and time BYU's legendary college scorer Jimmer Fredette?
His trainer knows. He's known for more than a decade.
Fredette didn't hire an agent to introduce him to a stranger in preparation for next month's NBA draft. He didn't need to go to Arizona or a sweat camp in Los Angeles with a high-priced specialist. Fredette trusted his training to the man he credits for everything he's done in nurturing his physical abilities: His uncle Lee Taft, a conditioning coach in New Castle, Ind.
Fredette will join 54 prospective draftees this week at the NBA Combine from Wednesday through Friday at the Attack Athletics Facility on the West Side of Chicago. While there, Fredette will surprise people, predicted Taft.
"I think it will be his athleticism, and they will be very surprised with his quickness and his speed," said Taft two days before he left to participate in athletic training clinics in Helsinki, Iceland, Chicago, Las Vegas and Kansas City.
Taft predicts when Fredette does the three-quarter-court sprint, he will post one of the fastest times, just like he did a year ago at a New York Knicks workout where his time ranked in the top three among prospects.
That was after a season of illness and a bout of mononucleosis. This year he's increased his measurables by an average of 3 percent, said Taft.
"The agility drills they do, he will be very efficient with it.
"People say that he's not fast or quick or athletic. No, he is very athletic. He is very quick. He is extremely gifted in the way he moves. He doesn't have a lot of hesitation in his move and they will be very impressed with his quickness."
Taft should know. Professionally, he is known as The Speed Guy. It is his specialty. He runs the Lee Taft Speed Academy in New Castle (sportsspeedetc.com).
All those moves Jimmer has? Taft started working on the efficiency of Jimmer's body movement when the nation's leading college scorer was just 5 years old. That's when Jimmer's fast-twitch muscle fiber in his calf muscles, his quads, hips and waist began to develop under Taft's tutelage.
That, along with DNA and talent, made Fredette almost unstoppable in 2011.
"It's a little surreal when you see this little boy that you used to pick up and hold and rock to sleep and now he's the leading scorer in the country," Taft said right after the NCAA Tournament.
Talk about Jimmer's cross-over, his retreat-step-back move, his explosion past defenders and stretch to the rim? His acceleration and vertical jump? It's all part of Taft's science in increasing Jimmer's multidirectional wizardry, quick lateral movement, balance and agility.
Taft once worked with tennis star Pete Sampras, and he trained University of Butler basketball star Zach Hahn at the local high school.
"He worked with my footspeed, acceleration and explosiveness," Hahn told his hometown newspaper in Indiana. "He taught me a lot about footwork, mechanics and proper positioning. He really helped me a lot. I could tell a big difference after I worked with him."
Since Jimmer's season ended with a slight tear in his calf muscle during the Florida game, Fredette has spent time with Taft refining techniques and training for the combine.
The day after saying goodbye to his nephew last week, I spoke to Taft in Indiana and he declared Jimmer ready for Chicago.
"Jimmer grew up around me, and we've been fortunate to have each other. It's a pleasure for me to work with him," said Taft.
"He's in very good shape now," Taft said of Fredette. "It wasn't that way after the season. It took about two weeks before he could really work out like he needed to.
"We had a workout yesterday, and he's doing fantastic, really looking sharp.
He's going to be in good shape going into the combine.
"I didn't have access to him in college like I did when he was growing up. I worked with him in the summer times. We worked on technique, the progressions and building back up his multidirectional speed and lateral quickness, his retreat-back move and acceleration. It's all technique based. He's already a very good athlete."
In postseason sessions, Taft added ball handling and shooting drills and perfected Fredette's angles and cuts. "It's a process," Taft said. "It varies from day to day."
Taft said Fredette's impressive height and balance off his shot speaks for itself, but his vertical isn't his strength and doesn't matter. "He can get to the square above the rim. I don't remember what his vertical measured at, but I wouldn't be concerned, it is good enough and it isn't a big part of his game to finish at the rim."
"His game is skill with the ball. Balance, quickness, agility, body control, movement, creating angles and his quickness in execution. It isn't a primary focus to get his vertical 2 or 3 more inches; it does help as a by-product by the training we do."
Another area Taft believes Fredette will impress in is his strength. Combine invitees will be tested on how many reps players can press 185 pounds.
"Jimmer did that 13 times without even practicing, and that's as good as most guards will do," said Taft.
"Jimmer is extremely strong. When he puts his shoulder into somebody, he is solid and it's hard to move him off his line. He has always been naturally strong. He's not the kind of player who is going to dunk over people. He's not going to get any taller, so we have to increase his abilities in other areas. He has big shoulders, he's thick and he didn't always lift weights until he got to BYU. When they test him, he will be impressive."
"Excellent," is how Fredette put his preparedness on Friday. "Lee has gotten me in great shape, and I am definitely ready for the combine."
Jimmer credits his uncle for the agility and moves.
"Lee has helped me with my quickness, speed, body control and my core balance so I was able to get to the basket when I wanted to. He worked a lot on lateral moves with me. He has taught me how to move more efficiently, taught me how to take good angles on my cuts, and helped me with a quick start and to be able to stop on a dime and keep my balance to shoot."
"I wouldn't be where I am today without him. He's the person who made me move as well as I do."
Fredette will join SDSU's Malcolm Thomas and Kawhi Leonard from the MWC at this week's affair in Chicago.
After the last workout together in Provo on May 10, Taft told Jimmer he'd worked for this NBA moment all his life and he was extremely excited for him.
"If you know Jimmer, he isn't a guy who says a lot. He looked at me and said, 'You've got that right. I've been waiting for this day a long, long time.'
"So, he's ready. He's put himself in a position to do well. He's only going to get better. He's going to show people all the facets of his game, and it will be fun."
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