SALT LAKE CITY — The Jimmer Fredette "Mini-Reunion Tour," as he called his first two games with Phoenix, continued Monday night in Utah after a Saturday night stop in Sacramento.
Judging the standing ovation upon his introduction at Vivint Arena, the raucous cheers every time he entered the game and touched the ball, the loud gasps after each missed shot (and there were plenty) and the thunderous celebration when he finally hit free throws and then again when he hit a floater against the Jazz, local admirers of the former BYU man, myth and legend had a bunch of pent-up Jimmermania energy just waiting to get out of their systems the past four years.
New teammate Devin Booker was impressed — even if Fredette did take a few shots that the Suns shooting guard might've liked as he attempted to reach the 60-point mark in the final minutes of his impressive 59-point performance.
"I love it," Booker said of the hoopla surrounding Fredette in his old college state. "I was 14 years old during his tournament run at BYU (in 2011). I’m a fan of his, a big fan of his. Watching it up close and personal, and him getting the love he deserves in this state and this city, that says a lot about the people around here."
In his Utah return, The Jimmer hit five of his final six shots — well, if you include four free throws — for six points, one rebound, one assist and the enthusiastic adoration of thousands among the 18,306 in attendance.
Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, who had a quiet night with 10 points in the 125-92 blowout win, gave one heck of a backhanded compliment to the 2011 NCAA player of the year while crediting the loyal supporters who went berserk for the 14 minutes Fredette was on the court.
"I was so confused today," Mitchell said. "It just shows the passion of the fans in Utah. I told Ricky (Rubio), 'This man played college basketball. He didn't do anything else but play college basketball and they love him.' That’s awesome."
Former Ute Kyle Kuzma, whose Lakers visit Utah on Wednesday, also chimed in, tweeting, "Mannnnnn I better get the same reception Ute fans this is amazing (multiple crying laughter emojis)."
Thanks to a fun scheduling twist, Fredette got the chance to visit two places he used to call home upon his return to the NBA after signing a two-year deal with the Suns.
"It's always good to be back in Salt Lake City. I haven't played here in a while," he said after Monday's shootaround. "It's fun to get back and see some friends. I'm sure it will be a great crowd tonight with a lot of BYU fans and a lot of Utah fans, mixed emotions. It will be fun."
Fredette admitted there were a lot of emotions in this game and said he appreciated a crowd he acknowledged was "definitely crazy" on his behalf.
"I felt pretty amped up about the game," he said after shooting 1-for-10, including missing his first eight field-goal attempts. "A lot of my shots were a little bit long, but it felt good to just go out there and just be aggressive, play my game and know if I keep doing that, everything's going to be good."
Fredette said there's an adjustment going from playing in China, but if things go well for the 30-year-old, who spent the past three seasons sizzling the nets for Shanghai and spreading Jimmermania to the other side of the world, the guard will get a chance in the 2019-20 season for some more reunions in his other old NBA stomping grounds — Chicago, New York and New Orleans. The Suns have a team option on his contract. He hopes to show his skills and maturity have evolved enough through his experience as the Sharks' star player to stick around the association for more than just the final stretch of this Suns season.
"I've just matured as a basketball player and as a person in general. I have a family now. It puts things in perspective," said Fredette, who's now a father. "I've worked on a lot of different things while in China, being able to play so much game time — on-court time — the last three years makes you better, being the focal point of the team. So I've been able to work at all facets of my game, and hopefully this time it will be a different story."
After his All-American career at BYU, Fredette was drafted 10th overall and began his pro career with the Kings. He spent two and a half frustrating years in Sacramento, never finding a groove or role like he did in college while playing for a team in turmoil, before moving on to Chicago for a short stint.
New Orleans gave him a shot the following season (2014-15), and he worked his way back into the NBA on a 10-day contract with the Knicks before opting to play for the respected Chinese Basketball Association. Fredette, a.k.a. "The Lonely Master, was a superstar in China. He earned International CBA MVP honors in 2017 and was honored as an All-Star in three straight seasons while wowing Chinese fans.
As much as he loved China, Fredette had his sights set on returning to the world's best basketball stage. It's almost fitting that he returned during March Madness, considering his heroics helped lead BYU to the Sweet 16 eight years ago.
"I always hoped for it (an NBA return). That was the goal, to be able to do that after this season," Fredette said. "I had it in my mind that it was going to happen. You have to speak things into existence sometimes if you want them to happen."
Fredette is grateful for the opportunity to play for ex-Jazz assistant coach Igor Kokoskov, and the Suns coach told him to just be who he is. Kokoskov told media that there are no secrets about Fredette.40 comments on this story
"He's an extremely talented offensive player," Kokoskov said, adding that there's no pressure on Fredette to go out and score 30 points. "He's in a good place. He's a competitor and he's a talented player and whatever the team needs he's going to be."
And if any returned missionaries or Chinese Utahns are hoping to chat it up with The Jimmer in Mandarin, they might have to do it at a restaurant. He smiled when asked how his Chinese is.
"OK, but I can't speak with people," Fredette said in English. "I can get around town. I can order food, stuff like that, basketball terminology, but that's about it."