February 07, 2011
PROVO, Utah — Whether or not Jimmer Fredette wins National Player of the Year honors in a couple of months, one thing is for sure: No player in America has this much juice.
On the day of a home game, the BYU guard simply owns the Marriott Center. He's the guy everyone came to see. He may as well be the mayor of Provo, Utah.
Saturday was my third trip there for a game since getting on the UNLV beat at the start of the 2008-09 season. The atmosphere is always phenomenal, but this experience was far different than the previous two.
It was all because of Jimmer Mania, which hit into its current, high gear about a month ago. Fredette's unique game caught the attention of the entire nation, he gradually became a regular lead story on SportsCenter and turned into a megastar.
Before the game even started, I witnessed …
• White T-shirts with the No. 32 on the front and back fly off of folding tables set up around the concourse for $10 apiece. The ringing of the cash registers was constant.
• A handful of marriage proposals towards Fredette via signs in the student section, which was packed and ready to love the man 90 minutes before tip-off.
• Fredette actually take a break from warm-ups to go sign autographs for the hundreds hanging over the railings behind one basket.
The place fills to capacity with 22,700 fans, leaving you to wonder how much money through ticket sales, merchandise and concessions Fredette draws to the school for just one home game.
That's one side of Fredette, where he's almost a mythical creature.
The other comes out after the ball is tipped, as the friendly, engaging demeanor changes and he's out for blood.
The prime target this time out was UNLV's Tre'Von Willis, who the last two seasons locked him up better than anyone in the league. Before the teams' first meeting of the season in Las Vegas on Jan. 5, Willis gave Fredette some fuel by calling him "supposedly the best player" in the Mountain West. Fredette then went out and scored 39 points in an 89-77 win, jawing at Willis during most of it.
Asked how to better defend Fredettte as a team heading into Saturday's game, Willis again opened up a bit.
"People don't realize that he doesn't want to pass the ball," Willis said. "He doesn't want to get assists. He wants to shoot the ball every single time. We're just trying to get more guys to think like that and do it as a group. Get more people in the lanes, make it seem more clogged, give him (less) to work from)."
Fredette would say after BYU's 78-64 victory on Saturday that he hadn't seen or heard the comments, but the numbers suggested otherwise. He adjusted to UNLV's improved effort on him, finished with a game-high seven assists and took only 14 shot attempts — almost 10 below his season average.
The final touch on his 29-point performance — fueled by a 16-of-16 showing at the free throw line — was simply cold.
With less than a minute to play and BYU up 12, Fredette clapped his hands, calling for the ball from teammate Jackson Emery atop the key.
Because Willis was on him.
He took the ball, crossed to the right, then drove hard to the left, knifed down the lane and scored two at the iron, smiling all the way back down the court.
"We needed another basket," he said afterwards in politically correct fashion. "I wanted to score another basket, really put them away, and that's what happened."
Fredette was asked further about his motivation behind calling for the ball late and also prodded on the subject of his lack of a pre-game fist bump with Willis and the conversation that transpired between the two just before he exited the game.
He didn't take any of the bait, because as soon as the game ended, he was back to being the smiling hero, with no vitriol to be found.
An hour after the game, the sweat had dried and Fredette was still in uniform, obliging interview requests. That included a lengthy session with the BYU radio team, done while hundreds of fans hung around in the stands behind him.
He signed more autographs, kissed more babies and handled it all like a pro, never appearing to be annoyed by any of it.
It all wraps up into what a few people told me has been dubbed locally as "The Jimmer Show."
It's unlike any other show you'll find in college basketball.