Catching up with Jimmer Fredette
Throughout the 2010-11 season, USA Basketball is talking to athletes who competed for the red, white and blue this past summer. We’re asking them to look back at their international experience, to talk about their current basketball season and to describe what they hope to achieve in the future. Check back often to read up on more USA Basketball athletes at usabasketball.com.
Brigham Young University guard Jimmer Fredette is quickly becoming a household name.
After posting 7.0 ppg. as a freshman and 16.2 ppg. as a sophomore, Fredette upped his scoring output to 22.1 ppg. as a junior in 2009-10, while leading the Cougars to a 30-6 and collecting five All-America honors, including a second team nod from Basketball Times. People were already talking about his prolific scoring ability when in 2010 he tied a BYU NCAA Tournament record by dropping 37 points in a 99-92 double overtime victory over Florida. The win advanced BYU to the NCAA second round for the first time since 1993, and that spurred the Fredette conversations.
He briefly considered entering the 2010 NBA Draft, but pulled his name out in time as everyone at BYU breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The 6-2 kid from Glens Falls, N.Y., then made more headlines when he became the first Cougar since 1993 to don a USA Basketball uniform, accepting an invitation to train as a member of the 2010 USA Basketball Select Team that practiced against the USA National Team in Las Vegas.
“I was so excited,” recalled Fredette. “I had never been a part of USA Basketball before. I know that a lot those guys who were part of the USA Select Team had been a part of the USA Basketball family before. I hadn’t been in that situation throughout my whole career.”
When he got to Vegas, Fredette quickly got to know members of the USA Select Team, most of whom were already nationally-known hoop stars, including NCAA champions Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, NCAA runner-up Shelvin Mack, USA Basketball U19 World Championship gold medalists Mack, John Shurna and Howard Thompkins, and slew of other All-Americans. During the week-long training camp, which pitted the young USA Select Team against the eventual 2010 FIBA World Championship gold medalists, the hard-working Fredette was matched up against NBA All-Stars such as Chauncey Billups and Derrick Rose, and he saw what it takes to get to the next level.
That USA Basketball experience -- playing alongside the nation’s top players and against the world’s best -- helped boost his confidence and improve his game heading into his final year at BYU.
“It helps you so much from a confidence standpoint,” said Fredette. “Just to see that you can even play at that level, you can go in and play basketball, make plays and do all these different types of things at some of the highest levels of basketball in the world. It helps your confidence a lot. It helps me know that if I keep working and keep getting better, maybe I can be there someday. It makes me want to work harder to get to that level.”
The work he put into improving his game shows in many ways. Currently Fredette’s 26.1 ppg. and 4.4 apg. is tops among his 17-1 Cougars teammates, and he was recently tabbed as one of 20 finalists for the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame’s Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s top point guard. Further, he has earned at least a share of four Mountain West Conference Player of the Week honors, one shy of his five from last season, and he propelled BYU into the No. 10 position in the weekly Associated Press poll, up from No. 23 at the start of the season. BYU broke into the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll in Week 4 at No. 25 and now sits at No. 11 in that poll.
On Jan. 11, Fredette tossed in a season-high 47 points against rival Utah and made it onto SportsCenter. Heading into the game, he was ranked second in the country in scoring behind his USA Select Team teammate Kemba Walker. When the stats are compiled at the end of the week, he could surpass Walker, another Cousy Award finalist, for the top-ranked scoring position in the nation.
One would think all the success that has come Fredette’s way might go to his head. Not even close. He works hard, credits his teammates and is genuinely humble when talking about everything that has happened in his basketball world over the past year.
“I always feel that I want to work as hard as I possibly can,” he said. “Not necessarily for other people, but for myself. I really expect to go out and go out and work as hard as I possibly can all the time. I know that if I do that, then I’ll make everybody else proud. That’s kind of what I focus on.”
USABasketball.com caught up with Fredette recently and asked him to reflect on his summer with USA Basketball, what that experienced did for his confidence and how connected he felt to the USA squad as it rolled through competition in Turkey en route to the FIBA World Championship gold medal, among other topics. Read what he had to say about it all…
You’ve had a heck of a year so far – playing on the USA Select Team, being mentioned as a national player of the year candidate, going back to your hometown for a game in your final season, earning four player of the week awards with plenty of time to pass last year’s five … Do you sometimes have to pinch yourself to make sure this is happening?
Yeah, definitely. It’s an amazing thing. As a young kid you dream about being in this position. You dream about playing against NBA players and being named to the preseason All-American team. It’s something that is kind of unreal at first. I don’t really think about it too much while I’m in season. I just kind of worry about what’s going on and how I can improve my game, how I can win the game that’s coming up. I’m sure that after the season’s over I’ll have time to reflect on it and see the accomplishments that myself and this team have done and be able to enjoy it a little more.
I know it’s been awhile, but do you still recall your reaction to being invited to be part of the USA Select Team?
Oh yeah, I was so excited. I had never been a part of USA Basketball before. I know that a lot those guys who were part of the USA Select Team had been a part of the USA Basketball family before. I hadn’t been in that situation throughout my whole career. Then finally I was able to be a part of those great camps on the USA Select Team, getting to play against NBA players who you watch and admire on the TV. It just all becomes a little bit real. It’s a great feeling to have, and I was just extremely excited when I got that call.
As far as I can tell, you’re the first player to represent Brigham Young University on a USA Basketball team since the 1986 U.S. Olympic Festival. Because of that, did you feel you had to work extra hard to make everyone at BYU proud?
I always feel that I want to work as hard as I possibly can. Not necessarily for other people, but for myself. I really expect to go out and work as hard as I possibly can all the time. I know that if I do that, then I’ll make everybody else proud. That’s kind of what I focus on. I know that a lot of people back here were following what I was doing in the summer, and obviously everybody back home was following what I was doing. I think they were very appreciative of the effort that I put out there in hopefully representing BYU well for them.
As a member of the USA Select Team, how much did that experience boost your confidence heading into your senior season?
It helps you so much from a confidence standpoint. Just to see that you can even play at that level, you can go in and play basketball, make plays and do all these different types of things at some of the highest levels of basketball in the world. It helps your confidence a lot. It helps me know that if I keep working and keep getting better, maybe I can be there someday. It makes me want to work harder to get to that level.
Who on the USA Select Team did you most enjoy playing with and getting to know?
It was cool for me to meet a lot of different kids. I didn’t really meet any of those guys before I got to the USA Select Team. I had never met Kemba Walker before, and he’s from New York, so it was cool to meet him. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, Shelvin Mack and all these guys you watch play on TV and who have had great careers so far, have been so far in the NCAA Tournament, it was fun to meet all these different guys. They’re all great guys. We all got along really well. Hopefully we did our part in helping the USA team win over there in Turkey.
After your first practice with the USA Select Team, you guys went up against the USA National Team. Can you describe what that was like?
It was kind of crazy just to see all the guys practicing, see Coach K and all these great coaches working those guys hard, showing all the defensive drills and things that they were doing. We got in there, and we didn’t have too much time to think. They had us warm up for about a second and threw us right in there. It was kind of a cool experience to know that you’re in there now. You don’t think about it. You can’t think about it at this point, you just have to go out there and play your game or else they’re going to take advantage of you. That’s what I think all the kids did. I think we did a great job of doing that. It was kind of cool to just be in that situation and see all the players and then all of a sudden be in there playing with them, it was a whole other thing.
Who were you most looking forward to meeting or matching up with?
There were so many great guards there. I’ve always really liked Chauncey Billups. He’s been a (NBA) Finals MVP and accomplished so much in his career. It was great to just see him, be able to meet him and talk with him. Then obviously there were Derrick Rose, (Russell) Westbrook and (Rajon) Rondo, three of the top guards in the NBA right now, who are just doing great things. It was fun to just meet them, play against them, match up against them and play and compete, and be able to talk with them to see what they’re like on and off the floor. It was a great experience and something that I’ll never forget.
Were you surprised with the intensity with which they practiced?
Not really. I had always heard that they really get after it, and I knew that it was going to be very competitive because those guys were trying to make a team. They were trying to make the USA team and it was tryouts, so everybody was on their top game and playing as hard as they possibly could to prove that they should be on that team and represent the U.S. So, I knew it was going to be very, very intense, and they didn’t let me down.
What kind of questions did you get from your BYU teammates after your stint with USA Basketball?
They just asked me what the guys were like off the floor. What they did, how they were and all those different types of things that I was able to see firsthand. I told them that they were all great guys. They hung out with each other. They’re just normal guys who went out and had fun, were joking around and were funny guys. It was cool to be able to tell my teammates back here what it was like and what some of those guys were like firsthand. I think that was something that was fun for all of us.
What are some of your fondest memories of your time in Las Vegas, either on and off the court?
Obviously, the best experience was being able to play at that level and see where you’re at. To be able to play at that level and gain advantage from that to try to get better so I can reach my ultimate goal of hopefully playing in the NBA someday.
Off the court was great. I was able to talk to a lot of different guys, meet them and hang out with them a little bit. I ran into Chauncey Billups one time just going to turn in our laundry, and he came right up to me, he knew who I was. He said, ‘hey, I really followed your career. I love watching you play. Continue to work and you’ll be right up with us next year,’ and all these different things that we were talking about. It was crazy to be able to meet him and have him know who I was without even being introduced at first. That’s something that I’ll never forget. It was an amazing experience.
Did you follow the USA World Championship team in its gold medal run?
Definitely. We were able to watch a lot of those games. Even if they were early in the morning, we would tape them and watch them later. I was able to watch a lot of their games, and they played great. Obviously, Coach K had them ready to go. Kevin Durant had an unbelievable championship, and everybody played their role and played their part. They were truly in it to win. They knew it was going to be a tough task, because the World Championship is huge for everybody across the world, but they did an unbelievable job going out there, representing the USA and winning the gold for us.
Did you feel more of a connection to the team after having worked out with them for a week?
Yeah, you do. You definitely do because you know what they’re like and you know their nicknames and all the other things they call each other on the court. You can kind of see them doing all these things and what they’re saying to each other, even when you’re just watching. So that’s cool that I was able to kind of know that and I felt a little more involved in the World Championship when I was watching them.
After getting a taste of USA Basketball, are you hoping to be able to return in the future for a shot at a gold medal?
Oh yeah, definitely. That’s something I would love to do, be able to represent the USA and play wherever it is and play against all these other teams across the world. That’s something I would love to do and would love to be a part of. I know I have to continue to work hard and play well in order to get there, but that’s something that I would definitely love to have a chance to do.