NEW ORLEANS —
No question, BYU's post-season ride to the Big Easy today is on the back of Jimmer Fredette.
He's averaged an eye-popping 34.4 points in five post-season games in Las Vegas and Denver and extended the demand for Jimmermania from coast-to-coast.
But Jimmer operates with a pit crew and they've got plenty of grease and oil on their bibs heading into the Sweet 16 and New Orleans.
They're the other guys; the ones with the hard hats and lunch pails, guys doing the dirty work away from the lights and glory that follow BYU All-America guard Fredette everywhere he goes.
And they've done it admirably.
They take what comes their way, but their job is clear. They rebound, block out, set screens, foul soft or hard — whatever it takes. Their tasks don't become highlight fodder for TV producers like Jimmer's do, but their work is the glue that's keeping BYU alive in post season.
You don't have to look very far to see the worker bees doing a little drone work.
The roll call?
Jackson Emery is obvious. His defense, his penchant for thievery has changed the dynamics of games. Dirty work. Crowbar work.
The others have been forced to redefine their identity the past six games, and do it on the run with wrenches and a little plumber's putty.
Noah Hartsock: The poster guy for a BYU athlete. He went 5-for-5 in 20 minutes against Gonzaga.
Charles Abouo. Find a piece of tape where he's taken time off in a game.
Kyle Collinsworth: A 6-6 guy now asked to play with the physicality of a 6-9 power forward.
Logan Magnusson: Ultimate utility man, The Sixth Man.
James Anderson: Inexperienced and sometimes awkward, but his big moments have been huge.
Steve Rogers: A guy who never knows when or how much time he'll get. He scored 10 in 10 minutes last time out in Denver.
"We're having fun. It's something really important, something you dream of growing up," said Hartsock. "We play the game because we love it, something for fun, something we can be proud of."
Take a guy like Collinsworth.
He was used to being the Main Man at Provo High School last year where he earned Deseret News Mr. Utah Basketball. At BYU, he started, then didn't for six games after getting a concussion in February. Then Brandon Davies was suspended. Since that shocker, coach Dave Rose turned to the true freshman during the Mountain West Conference and NCAA Tournament and started him again. His job? Get Davies' rebounds and defend.
One can't underestimate the weight of Collinsworth's role — rebounding.
Against Gonzaga last Saturday in the Pepsi Center, Collinsworth had seven rebounds, about the same as Zags big men Elias Harris (eight) and center Robert Sacre (seven).
Since BYU required Davies, the Cougars' leading rebounder to sit out the rest of the season as of March 1, Collinsworth has started BYU's last six games and averaged 8.3 rebounds per game. Davies' season average of 6.2 led the team for 26 games, but at 6-6, Collinsworth gives up at least three inches to Davies.
In short, Collinsworth is not Davies, and the 6-9 post man and his skill set are missed. But you cannot discount the fact Collinsworth is outrebounding Davies since that has become his primary function. He got 11 against Wofford and in the MWC tournament he averaged eight boards a game, and that included battle against New Mexico and Sweet 16-bound San Diego State.
"I'm undersized down there, but I try to utilize my quickness to get to balls," said Collinsworth, who will be headed to Russia for an LDS mission when BYU's run ends.
Collinsworth said the work the other guys do is important and nobody resents their superstar.
"We're a team here, we've been a team all season and that's what's gotten us this far. We have done the stuff we've needed to do to get here. We've all had offensive nights, but we are there to rebound and play defense. We need everyone to contribute. We have a great team and we all get along."
Fredette will once again step into a media frenzy in New Orleans. Everyone will want a sound-bite, an angle, a glimpse at the nation's unique leading scorer. And after the tip, the pressure on the kid from New York will continue to climb.
But it isn't going anywhere without the guys with hard hats, and Fredette knows it.
On Monday, he praised BYU's role players.
"They've done an unbelievable job all year. I think people started to see it a little bit when we played against San Diego State on CBS and people saw it nationally. It's not just me. We have a lot of good players on our team.
"We have great players that can make shots, make big plays and play defense and they've been huge in this NCAA Tournament, like they have all year."
Fredette knows all about pit crews, teammates, amigos and his beloved associates.
If they don't hurl around a lot of slick tires, he's not going to complete very many laps.