OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)—Jimmer Fredette has all the ingredients to be the next out-of-nowhere star in the NCAA tournament: the catchy nickname, the sweet shot, the late-game heroics.
He’s even got the intriguing back story of toughening up his play with a handful of pickup games against inmates at a couple of upstate New York prisons.
After he scored a tournament-high 37 points in BYU’s double-overtime thriller against Florida, all that stands between Fredette and a trip back to Salt Lake City for a close-to-home regional is Big 12 behemoth Kansas State and its own talented backcourt of Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen.
First, though, Fredette spent Friday soaking in the star treatment brought on by his first-round performance. Just after he got done answering a series of questions from reporters on one side of the Ford Center and wrapped up a quick visit with CBS, he returned to the BYU locker room to find another two dozen reporters and television cameras in a huddle, eagerly awaiting his return. A handful of national radio interviews were sprinkled in, too.
“I’ve been in a small market for my whole life,” Fredette said, “and obviously we’re on a bigger stage now.”
Fredette—whose mother gave him the nickname to avoid confusion with her brother, who’s also named James—grew up in Glens Falls, N.Y., with his older brother, T.J., as his de-facto basketball coach. He trained Fredette on random drills such as dribbling down a dark hallway and made him sign a contract that he’d work to reach his dream of playing in the NBA.
Once Fredette turned 18, his brother talked him into going to the prisons to play.
“At first, I didn’t believe him, of course,” Fredette said. “I was like, `What are you talking about?’ I thought he was playing another joke on me like he always does. But he went a couple times without me and I realized that it was real.”
Even more real were the looks he got when he first walked through the prison yard to get to the gym, and the fouls that made him a tougher player.
“They were very physical. They were big, strong guys,” Fredette said. “But it was good. They were good sports, they went in and they fouled you hard and they’d help you back up because they knew that if they didn’t act good, their privileges would be taken away from them and they didn’t want that. They wanted to stay out and they wanted to play against us.”
Kansas State’s bruising front line might be even less forgiving on Saturday night while trying to prevent seventh-seeded BYU from reaching the third round for the first time since Danny Ainge led it there in 1981.
Fredette’s trademark scoop shots and 3-point shooting—including the two in double OT that helped sink Florida—made it onto the second-seeded Wildcats’ scouting report, but not his time playing on the prison circuit.
“I haven’t heard that story. That’s an interesting story,” K-State forward Curtis Kelly said. “It’s hard to respond to that but the thing about our team is that we probably won’t back down to him because we’re all from tough backgrounds. I’m a former inner-city kid and I played against guys that got in jail or are going to jail.”
Kansas State also has a guard tandem capable of pouring in the points just as fast as Fredette, who’s averaging 22.1 points. Clemente and Pullen combine for 35 points and will team with swingman Dominique Sutton to try to keep Fredette from scoring at least 30 points for a fourth straight game.
“Everybody wants to talk about what sounds sexy or what looks sexy, but it’s a team game,” Wildcats coach Frank Martin said. “Defensively, we’re not playing in some one-on-one tournament. We play five against five, and our five have to be solid and give us a chance to defend the right way.”