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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Phoenix Suns guard Jimmer Fredette (32) stretches before the start of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 25, 2019. The Jazz won 125-92.

PLEASANT GROVE — It’s been eight years since former BYU superstar Jimmer Fredette concluded his memorable senior season, helping lead the Cougars to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, and earning consensus national player-of-the-year honors.

Fredette still follows his alma mater closely. He said he's “excited” about the changes that the basketball program has undergone this spring, including the retirement of Dave Rose after a 14-year run as head coach.

“Coach was ready to move forward. I have nothing but the greatest respect for coach Rose. He changed my life and my career. And he did that for a lot of people at BYU,” Fredette told the Deseret News recently while visiting Utah. “He was the best coach ever, I think, at BYU — his winning percentage and the way he went about things and the way he truly cared about people and his team and his community. I wish him well in his retirement. Maybe we’ll hit the golf course together sometime soon.”

What does Fredette think about the hiring of Mark Pope as the new head coach?

“I’m really excited for him and the new staff. I’m excited for coach Pope. It was a great hire. He knows what he’s doing. He’s been at BYU before as an assistant,” Fredette said. “He did really well over at (Utah Valley University) and turned that program around. I’m excited to see how it goes. They’re younger guys, they’re energetic and they’re ready to go. I’m excited to see how they do.”

Fredette has spent the past few years playing professionally in China, where he starred for the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association. He averaged 38.6, 36.9 and 36 points per game during his three seasons there and he was named the CBA MVP in 2016-17.

At the conclusion of the Sharks’ season, Fredette was allowed to pursue NBA opportunities. He agreed to a two-year deal with the Phoenix Suns in late March. The second year is a team option.

With the Suns, Fredette played in six games, averaging 10.8 minutes, 3.7 points, 1.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists. He shot 27 percent from the floor.

Phoenix finished with a 19-63 record.

Since the season ended, the Suns have hired a new head coach, Monty Williams, and a new general manager, James Jones.

How would Fredette evaluate his time in Phoenix?

“It was good. I had a fun experience. It’s something where you get in and you do the best you can with the opportunity that you have and try to show them what you can do on the court but most important, off the court, show them who you are as a person, what type of leader you can be, a guy that works hard every day and brings a winning mentality to practice and in the film room. That’s what I tried to do to the best of my ability. We’ll see what happens in the future.”

While in Utah recently, Fredette dropped by Discovery Park in Pleasant Grove, representing The Fredette Family Foundation, Jimmer's nonprofit organization. A community rebuild of Discovery Park is the inaugural project for the “Choose Kindness” initiative in Pleasant Grove to promote kindness and unity in the community.

The Fredette Family Foundation supported the rebuild project. About 2,200 volunteers helped over a week’s period to rebuild a state-of-the-art, wheelchair-accessible playground at Discovery Park.

“It’s amazing and it's something that brings the whole community together,” Fredette said.

The mission of Fredette Family Foundation is to strengthen families, unite communities and prevent bullying. He urged volunteers to “always try to be as inclusive as you can. That’s what we’re trying to preach with the Fredette Family Foundation.”

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The foundation “has been an awesome opportunity for me and my family to be able to start it six years ago,” Fredette said. “We basically try to get into school districts and help kids understand the importance of kindness and talk to them about anti-bullying programs and how they can be inclusive with everyone in their communities and schools. It’s important to get in at the kids’ level because they can make an impact in making everyone feel included.”

Fredette said he always enjoys returning to Utah.

“Being able to play here for my college career and have such a great four years here, I have friends here that I’ll have forever,” he said. “I love being able to come back here and see them. But also the impact I’ve been able to have is awesome to see. People still recognize my name, so I try to use it to help as many people as I can. Utah has a special place in my heart. I love coming back here.”