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Jimmer Fredette reminisces about March Madness

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Jimmer Fredette sat in his apartment with his brother and two former classmates last week, watching the NCAA tournament like so many other college basketball fans. Not that Fredette is just any college basketball fan. A year ago, he was the NCAA's consensus national player of the year, thrilling the sporting world with his scoring ability as he led BYU to the Sweet 16 while spawning a frenzy known simply as, "Jimmer Mania."

Now a rookie with the NBA's Sacramento Kings, Fredette was confined to watching as BYU lost to Marquette in the Round of 64 in this year's tournament.

“It’s kind of weird every time you watch them on the floor,” Fredette said. “They are on their own now. I used to be in battle with them. It’s a different dynamic to watch the game as a fan."

“It’s just so fun to play in March Madness,” Fredette added later with a hint of nostalgia.

Fredette's NBA career hasn't begun with the same level of excitement. He was drafted 10th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks then traded immediately to the Kings. Like every other NBA player, he then had to wait as the league's lockout swallowed the first two months of the season.

Fredette has also had to adjust to a reduced role. He's averaging 7.6 points, 1.9 assists and 19.1 minutes. Fellow rookie guard Isaiah Thomas, the final pick in last year's draft, has passed him in the rotation and moved into the starting lineup.

“You never know how many minutes you are going to get,” Fredette said. “You have to be ready to play in a different way than I was used to last year to get on the floor. You just work as hard as you can and play your game the amount of time that you’re in there and try to help the team.

“It’s something that’s different from last year. But I had this role before when I first got to college and now I’m going through this kind of transition again. I’m in more of a positive spirit. I’m trying to handle it a little bit better.”

[ Also: Kendall Marshall's broken wrist mars UNC's win to make Sweet 16 ]

Despite Fredette’s struggles, Kings coach Keith Smart thinks he will become a good NBA point guard. Smart advised Fredette to stop pump-faking after driving into the lane because he won't be able to get off his shot against NBA defenders. He's shown improvement in that area and has worked to make better decisions when he has the ball.

“For any young player, he wants to play,” Smart said. “Everyone from around the world wants to see him because of what they saw [in college]. But at the same time you are taking a young man who had the ball in his hands 90 percent of the time and took 75 percent of the shots. In the NBA you are not going to be able to do those things.

“He’s understanding the big picture. But I think people around from the outside want to see something because of what they saw last year and throughout his career at BYU.”

So will Jimmer ever be able to inspire the same sort of frenzy he did in college?

“Maybe not to that extent of how it happened, but I think I can be a really good scorer in this league and I look forward to showing that,” Fredette said.

[ Also: New March Madness food traditions ]

Fredette's toughest adjustment to the NBA, however, has been dealing with his team's losing. The Kings are 16-29, the second-worst record in the Western Conference.

“You’re not used to it. A lot of guys were probably not used to it when they came here," Fredette said. "It’s something that you can’t let yourself get used to. You have to keep pushing forward and keep pushing the winning mentality. Eventually things will turn.”

In the meantime, Fredette has allowed himself to reminisce about playing in the NCAA tournament. He filled out a bracket with North Carolina, Duke, Michigan State and Ohio State as his Final Four teams.

“It’s a great time of the year," Fredette said. "I remember how all the excitement was when you go inside the arena. It’s fun. It’s something that is a great memory of mine."

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