TUCSON, Ariz. – Since he doesn't exactly have a nickname worthy of what he's doing these days, Devon Beitzel is happy to accept the one thrown at him: Little Jimmer.
"I'll take the comparisons, I'll take the compliments," Beitzel said, "but, I mean, I'm definitely not at that level."
No, Beitzel hasn't dropped 50 points this season like BYU guard Jimmer Fredette, though the comparisons aren't far-fetched. They're short white guys. Both are deceptively quick dead-eye shooters. Each wears No. 32. And Fredette has twice done what Beitzel hopes his 15th-seeded Northern Colorado Bears can do Thursday afternoon: beat San Diego State, the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament's West Region.
Northern Colorado rode the 6-foot, 170-pound Beitzel through the Big Sky Conference tournament for its first NCAA bid. He has scored 23 points or more during the Bears' seven-game winning streak, and his off-balance three-pointer in the conference championship game evoked the Jimmer comparison all the more.
Their styles are different. Fredette creates his shots off the dribble while Beitzel's come using screens. Both drive the lane with fearlessness, though, and Beitzel's 214 free throws attempted this season tripled his tries last year. Before a game against Eastern Washington this season, Beitzel was broadsided and needed stitches to close a gash over his left eyebrow. He scored 27 that night.
Beitzel turned down offers from Ivy League schools because they don't give athletic scholarships. He instead went to UNC in Greeley, about an hour north of his home in Lafayette, Colo. Though he was recruited before Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill arrived, Hill knew quickly that Beitzel had the bones to succeed.
"When you can walk through your arena at odd hours and find a kid in there working on the things that you told him he needed to do to be successful, you got to take advantage of that," Hill said. "Even if he might not have the athleticism or the size, guys that have that type of heart make up for it. And you are not going to find a better example than that kid."
As a freshman, Beitzel came off the bench Jan. 9, 2008 to score a career-high 15 points. His opponent? San Diego State, which the Bears beat 62-56. While San Diego State exacted revenge the next season, Beitzel did enough to prompt Aztecs coach Steve Fisher to throw out a Jimmer comparison Wednesday.
"Well," Beitzel said, "I've been working on my one-dribble-across-half three-pointer."
He laughed. Life is good right now. The Bears are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time, playing with house money. Beitzel's got a job lined up as an auditor at Ernst & Young if the basketball thing doesn't go any further. He'd prefer to delay that, though. If the Bears want to pull the upset of the tournament, Beitzel knows the script.
Little Jimmer needs to come up big.