Before he was a repeat all-conference first-teamer, before he launched an assault on BYU's career scoring record, before he became a one-name sensation, before he was in the mix for national player-of-the-year honors, and before "The Shot," Jimmer Fredette was a backup.
Fredette's BYU career began as the understudy to point guard Ben Murdock and shooting guard Sam Burgess. Coming off a high school career where he set New York state point-scoring records, Fredette didn't start a single game as a freshman.
"I expect them all to want to be starters," BYU coach Dave Rose said, "but sometimes it's a little more difficult."
"When I got here, there were two starting guards who were seniors. They were good players and they were tough-nosed guys," Fredette said. "They wanted to win and they had been in the program, so they knew what they were doing."
Murdock, who now runs a family auto dealership in Logan, remembers well the first practices with a player who may one day stand as the most prolific scorer in BYU basketball history.
"My impression was 'Wow, this kid could be pretty good,'" Murdock said. "He wasn't and still isn't necessarily the quickest guy, but obviously he can shoot the lights out and is just really crafty with the ball and is a really good finisher around the basket."
Assigned to be a facilitator within the BYU offense in 2007-08, Murdock knew he was mentoring a dynamic guard who could do much more than distribute the ball. Yet, Fredette never made waves over his second-string role.
"I'm sure Jimmer probably felt at some point that he should have been starting over either myself or Sam," Murdock said. "But he never conveyed that message in any way, shape or form. He was always a great teammate."
"It was tough for me at first, because I've always been a guy who's been playing a lot of minutes and doing a lot for the team," added Fredette. "But I had to kind of play my role, just be a positive guy off the bench for us, and that's what I tried to do."
"The most impressive thing for me with Jimmer was the fact that he was such a team guy; he just wanted to contribute," Rose said. "He got better throughout the whole season, and by he time we got to the NCAA Tournament, he was a mainline player for us."
Still coming off the bench, Fredette set season highs in minutes played in each of the last two games of his freshman season, scoring a combined 27 points in postseason contests versus UNLV and Texas A&M.
"You could see that he was going to be a breakout player," Murdock said. "You could see Coach Rose's confidence in Jimmer."
Rose says Fredette's own confidence was bolstered during that freshman season.
"After the season was over, he came in my office and said 'OK, Coach, I'm ready. It's my turn, I'm going to be your starting point guard, this is how we're going to do it, and here's what's going to happen,' " Rose said.
"I was pleased at how confident he was, but I was really pleased with was how much work he put into the next year," Rose added. "I can't remember a player in our conference going from a part-time guy his first year to first team all-league the next year. It was pretty impressive."
Equally impressive is that Fredette's path to BYU and national stardom is so unlike the path other elite players have taken with the Cougars. The three players ahead of Fredette on BYU's career scoring list (Devin Durrant, Michael Smith and Danny Ainge) all started between 22 and 30 games as freshmen. The last 10 winners of the Wooden and Naismith Player of the Year awards averaged 31 starts as freshmen. Fredette's first start came in his sophomore season.
Fredette calls his rookie campaign "a great experience for me, to go through that and keep my confidence up and keep playing well. If you do that and keep a positive attitude, things can work out for you."
Things have worked out so well that Fredette is now one of the best and best-known players in the country. The point-guard-turned-car dealership general manager who started ahead of Fredette three years ago says he's "not stunned at all," but admits that "it's kind of funny."
"I like to make a joke out of it," Murdock said. "After (last week's) Utah game, everybody was asking me, 'Did you see Jimmer?' Did you see Jimmer?' I say, 'Yeah, that guy is amazing, and guess what? He was my backup.' "
Greg Wrubell is the radio play-by-play "Voice of the Cougars," and hosts BYU Football and Basketball Coaches' Shows on KSL Newsradio and KSL 5 Television. Wrubell's blog "Cougar Tracks" can be found at byu.ksl.com. "Behind the Mic" is published every Tuesday during the BYU Football and Basketball seasons. E-mail: [email protected]