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PROVO — That strong gust that blew through Utah County around 3 p.m. Saturday was the simultaneous sigh of relief from the thousands of BYU basketball fans who had been holding their collective breath in hopes that star point guard Jimmer Fredette would return for his senior season.

As expected, Fredette announced, through BYU's sports information department, that he will be back to try to cement himself as one of BYU's top players ever, and to try and help the Cougars win their fourth Mountain West Conference championship in five years and earn a sixth-straight trip to the postseason.

However, the suspense on whether Fredette would withdraw from the NBA draft by Saturday's 3 p.m. deadline was heightened by word that Fredette did better than expected in workouts this past week with four NBA teams — the Oklahoma City Thunder, New Jersey Nets, Boston Celtics and New York Knicks. He reached the decision to return after discussing his options early Saturday afternoon with his family and BYU coach Dave Rose.

"I had a great experience going through the whole process," Fredette said. "I met some great people and learned a lot. I was able to impresses a lot of people and I think they will be interested to see how I do this coming season. I hope to play extremely well my senior year and achieve our team goals and my personal goals and get drafted next year."

Fredette suffered a slight quad pull in his final workout with the Knicks on Friday, but the injury is considered minor. He's currently enrolled in classes at BYU, and will meet with the media on Monday to discuss his decision and basketball future.

He told the media a couple of weeks ago that he would not remain in the draft unless he was guaranteed first-round status. The teams he worked out with would not give such a guarantee, but did give positive feedback indicating Fredette does have the potential for a successful NBA career someday.

Fredette's return to BYU certainly comes as good news to Rose, who lost back-up point guard Michael Loyd Jr. last week. With Fredette back to join senior Jackson Emery, the Cougars retain their starting backcourt. Fredette has currently played in 80 BYU wins, and if the Cougars can have at least a 24-win season next year, he'll pass Jonathan Tavernari as the Cougars' all-time winningest player.

"This was a great experience for Jimmer," Rose said. "He got a lot of really positive feedback and he'll use it to make himself a better player. Jimmer's a great player and we're looking forward to next season. His family is very supportive of this decision and is really looking forward to his senior season at BYU."

Rose said on Wednesday that returned missionary Nick Martineau, along with freshmen Kyle Collinsworth and Anson Winder, will battle for time spelling Fredette and Emery. Collinsworth, this season's Utah Mr. Basketball at Provo High, is also the leading contender to be the starter at the small forward spot, which opened up when Tyler Haws left on an LDS Church mission.

With New Mexico's Darrington Hobson deciding to take his chances with the NBA draft and not return to the Lobos next season, Fredette will go into the year as the leading contender for MWC Player of the Year honors.

The news that Fredette will return to the Cougars should also seal the deal for BYU to play Vermont on Dec. 8 in Fredette's hometown of Glens Falls, N.Y., at the 6,000-seat Glens Falls Civic Center.

Fredette earned numerous honors last season in leading BYU to a 30-6 record and the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He was named to five All-America teams, the All-Mountain West Conference First Team, and was selected All-District by the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC).

Last season, Fredette averaged 22.1 points, 4.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game and eclipsed 20 points 22 times and 30 points eight times. Fredette had several notable games, setting BYU records with 49 points and nine 3-pointers at Arizona and an MWC Tournament record with 45 points against TCU. He tied the Cougar record for points in an NCAA Tournament game with 37 against Florida.

Fredette is 10th on BYU's all-time scoring list with 1,531 points. The 751 points he scored last season were the fourth-most in one season at BYU.

e-mail: jimr@desnews.com