SACRAMENTO, Calif. — What an interesting NBA nest that Jimmer Fredette landed in.
It's the youngest team in the NBA, with an average age of 24. Seven of 14 Kings players are new, and the average experience on the squad is 3.1 years. The Sacramento Kings fans are uncertain if the Kings will even remain in the city.
Their coach, Paul Westphal, got fired just weeks into the season and the new coach, Keith Smart, is expected to be Robert Reed playing the part of the father in the Brady Bunch.
Well, it's not exactly the Bradys.
Fredette came to a team where a lineup of young, anxious, hungry players are jockeying for position and their futures, like pageant contestants throwing elbows before a dressing room mirror.
You get the picture.
It was reported that in an early-season Kings practice, an open rookie Jimmer Fredette motioned for the ball and the dribbler came over and got in his face. Imagine someone being angry that a guy who led 4,446 Division I male basketball players in scoring last season mildly clapped for a pass.
Young teams go through this.
"I have a bunch of alpha males," Smart said. "And a lot of them are putting their spots down. They are trying to say, 'This is my team, this is what I'm doing.'"
The challenge, explains Smart, is to "shorten the gap, close it up, to get them to see it is the team that is important and it is the team that is rising up, and when the team rises up, they all rise up."
To do this, Smart instigated a move to promote chemistry. He asked players to spend time with each another on and off the court, go to a movie, out to dinner, hang with each other's families, get together and watch an NBA game on TV in a family room.
"Then, when a player is being challenged by another teammate, he knows it's not personal. Build chemistry on and off the floor and it becomes a basketball team. Then, when a player is open and a player misses him when he's open, he'll know that player isn't looking him off and he'll go up and acknowledge that and say, 'I missed you that time, I'll get you next time.' That's what we're trying to build."
Smart, a "people person," says that's his strength. It's also his challenge with the Kings, but there's been progress. "All great teams have chemistry and players like each other."
Fredette knows this better than anyone. With all the attention he gets, he is mindful his teammates may be listening. He did it at BYU and now with the Kings. After the NBA draft, Kings publicist Devin Blankenship was very pleased and impressed that when people interviewed Fredette, he quickly tried to include other draftees Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Honeycutt in conversations.
In my opinion, more than anybody on the Kings roster, Fredette understands if he is to make it in the league, he has to be a teammate before anything else. If not, they'll freeze him out.
I saw this Wednesday in the locker room and on the floor when Denver blew the Kings out on their home court.
Thomas, whose locker is one away from Fredette, says Jimmer is a great teammate to him, a fellow novice.
"We're great. He's a great dude. He's a great basketball player but a greater dude. He really doesn't worry about himself, he's a caring teammate."
Thomas has heard fans screaming at Fredette to take shots. He knows he's torn between being a gunner and a passer, between being a teammate and an individual who wants to succeed. For a time more than a week ago, Fredette struggled and appeared to have lost his shot.
Thomas advises Fredette not to feel the heat.
"It might be hard sometimes because expectations are so high for him. A guy like that just wants to play and have fun and he's not too worried about it, but at times, it may get to him, to do what people expect him to do all the time.
"We try and tell him to just go out and play basketball — just do what you did at BYU and the life before BYU. He's done a good job of that, especially the last couple of games," said Thomas.
Fredette has made 8 of 12 from distance the last two games, but both were losses.
However, scoring points may not be the most important thing he does on this team. This is where Fredette balances the high wire. In interviews, with his teammates looking on, a crowd of reporters working their mikes, he makes it "we" and not "I" as much as he possibly can.
"We are a tough team, and we're going to come back and keep fighting," he tells reporters. "With this season the way it is, the games keep coming and you can't worry about the last one. We are going to regroup and come out and play the next one."
That comes Saturday at EnergySolutions Arena against the Utah Jazz, a homecoming of sorts for the BYU star.
"It will be exciting to go back to Utah where I spent four great years," Fredette said. "They have such great fans there. They are passionate about their Jazz, kind of like the Kings fans are here. I'm excited to go back there, but the important thing is for us to go in there and steal one, so that is what we will try and do."
If you notice, in that quote, Fredette praised Utah Jazz fans for their passion and acknowledged he is returning to Utah, but the main objective is for the team to win.
Basic deflection technique 101: keep it about the team and the prime objective.
It is a trait that endeared him to his teammates and coaches at BYU and on his high school team. It isn't fake. It isn't a line. It is who he is.
Fredette has his weaknesses. He is far from the player he'll be down the road. When he plays the two guard, he's defending the best drivers and shooters on the planet. When at the point, he's facing superstars. It is no easy task for any rookie, let alone Jimmer, who is not as quick.
"In this league, you can't back down from anybody," said Thomas. "You play them with respect but also know that you are just as good as them and go out and prove it."
The Kings struggle. Players fail to move without the ball and play help defense. They fail to get back and protect against transition baskets. They don't have a true identity on offense and many times act confused. The chemistry Smart wants on the court is not there yet, but the group dinners have helped. This is a team that is making progress.
"It's tough, trying to get better," said Fredette. On a 6-13 team, he's experiencing losses at a rate completely foreign to him in his young life.
Losing isn't fun, but Fredette says he is having fun.
"We're still building as a team and as a coaching staff to get where we want to be. We realize it's going to be a long process. There have been games we've played very well, others where we have not. We have to make ourselves a contender in every game," he said.
His family has made many of his games in Sacramento and on the road. They will be at Saturday's Jazz game. His fiancée, Whitney Wonnacott, remains in school at BYU and is on the cheer squad.
"She's been out a few times, but she is very busy with her crazy schedule," said Fredette.
While his electric run last year in a BYU uniform is fading away, he continues to receive plenty of attention in NBA arenas across the land.
"They have been very, very supportive," he said of his followers. "Hopefully I can continue to perform for them and we will get more fans. We need to get more wins to have more fans and the Kings will appreciate that support."
See, he gets back to the Kings.
One has to pry to keep him on task, himself.
Fredette's shoe contract is with Spalding, the basketball maker. It's one of many endorsement contacts he has, some yet to be announced.
Said Fredette, "It's a great startup company this year, trying to make a comeback and I'm helping them get started. It's a good shoe, very comfortable, lightweight and durable. I really like it. Next year we'll have another line come out, and it'll be exciting."
But is he happy?
He's gotta be happier. More than a week ago he was struggling. Now, after two consecutive starts, the last one producing a team-high 19-points, he's coming back to Utah and is expected to start for a third game.
"I am having fun. It is tough, you don't want to lose games. I am going to continue to get better and do great things."
Two days in Sacramento and I finally got an "I" out of Jimmer.
Kings at Jazz
Today, 7 p.m.
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