SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Far away from the NBA's brightest lights, Jimmer Fredette can walk into a restaurant or grocery store in California's Central Valley and barely turn a head.
There are still some signs and shouts of "We Want Jimmer!" at Sacramento Kings games, and photo and autograph seekers sprout up sporadically. But that's here, on the fringe of the league landscape.
Around the nation, there's no Jimmermania this March.
"It's definitely not as crazy as last year," said Fredette, nearing the end of a quiet rookie season. "It's just a different phase of your life, and I've gone through that before."
Maybe not like this.
A year ago, Fredette swept up the country with big performances in big games that had NBA stars tweeting his name, President Barack Obama mentioning him while filling out his bracket and BYU faithful in a frenzy that reached beyond the quiet Provo campus. He won almost every national award, including The Associated Press' player of the year honor.
As the former BYU sensation returns to Utah on Friday night to face the Jazz, his popularity outside the Beehive State has dwindled and so has his role on one of the NBA's worst teams.
"There are not a lot of people who would handle what he has gone through as gracefully as Jimmer," said his uncle, Lee Taft, who has trained Fredette since he was 5 years old. "Jimmer is just so patient, and he understands his time will come."
Fredette is still coping with his reshaped reality.
The surprising emergence of 5-foot-9 point guard Isaiah Thomas, the 60th and final pick of last year's draft out of Washington whom the Kings are touting for Rookie of the Year honors, is one of the biggest reasons Fredette has been buried on the bench. The other is his struggle to adapt to new coach Keith Smart, who took over for the fired Paul Westphal after a 2-5 start, and his demands that Fredette become more than a ball-dominating guard.
The coaching change not only complicated Fredette's transition — which already included lost offseason workouts, summer league and a full training camp due to the prolonged NBA lockout — it has become the source of ridicule from impatient fans.
That passion peaked Feb. 21, when Fredette's brother, T.J., became so frustrated that his sibling sat for all 48 minutes at Miami he tweeted, "Can we please get rid of this interim coach who should be an assistant at best and bring in a real head coach." He later apologized for the remarks.
"Sometimes I have to text Jimmer after games so I feel good," joked his father, Al Fredette, who will be in Salt Lake City along with scores of family members and friends Friday night. "He handles it a lot better than the rest of us."
Fredette's minutes have steadily evaporated.
In his last four games — the ones he has actually played in — Fredette has been on the floor for a combined 24 minutes. He has almost as many games not played (five) as starts (six), the last coming in a loss at Golden State on Jan. 31.
Fredette is averaging 7.2 points and 1.8 assists in about 18 minutes per game while shooting 38 percent from the floor and 37 percent from 3-point range. In a little more than a month, he has morphed into a third-string backup on a Sacramento (17-33) team that is the second worst in the Western Conference.
"The one thing Jimmer needs, is he needs minutes," Taft said. "Jimmer has always been a point guard. And when a point guard doesn't have a chance to get into a flow, get the feel of his teammates and make his adjustments on the floor, it's very difficult."
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