A bruised tomato – the shot was soft, barely nipping the net as it fell through the rim.
Jimmer Fredette spun into the lane, getting a step ahead of his defender, Toure Murray. The larger man, Murray, put his size into Fredette’s 195-pound frame, sending him face first to the hardwood of the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
On his back, with his head toward the baseline, Fredette flipped the ball upwards, perfect rotation. The basket didn’t count; the foul was on the floor. Still, the shot served as a reminder of the mythology that has surrounded Fredette for the past five years: Jimmer Fredette can put the ball through the hoop from any angle and any spot on the court.
He has been doing it since Glens Falls High School in 2003; since he led the nation in scoring at Brigham Young University with a 29-point average; since he scored 52 points in the Mountain West Conference Championship on that very same Thomas & Mack Center hardwood.
“Unbelievable. Best scorer obviously in the country. Great talent.” -Barrack Obama, 2011
It’s been a long time since The Milwaukee Bucks selected Fredette with the 10th overall pick in the NBA draft – longer still since Fredette was considered a bonafide NBA player.
Fredette’s NBA career started with a three-team, eight-player trade that saw John Salmons, Beno Udrih, Corey Maggette, Shaun Livingston and Stephen Jackson shuffled from one place to the next.
Fredette landed in Sacramento.
The hype was certainly waiting for him – the sale of Kings jerseys up-ticked by nearly 600 percent from the previous year – but it didn’t translate to wins or accolades for Fredette, who has never averaged more than seven points per game in an NBA season.
In February of 2014, the Kings bought out Fredette’s contract. Since then, he has had unremarkable stops in Chicago, New Orleans and New York.
“There’s a lot of things out there you can’t control,” says Fredette during a break in the action of the Las Vegas Summer League. “Sometimes you can’t control how much you’re playing, or whether you get traded, or what team you’re going to be with, or what your situation is as far as the lineups’ concerned. I worked as hard as I could every single day, I have no regrets of anything I’ve done. Whether I’ve played well or didn’t play well on that night it’s not like I wasn’t trying as hard as I could, I’ve done everything I could to be in the position I am in and I feel like there’s a bright future ahead as well.”
Two years ago, in 50 games with the Pelicans, Fredette shot 19 percent from his patented 3-point range. Persistent questions about his ability to defend bigger, more athletic guards and adjust his game from a scorer to a role player seemed to have definitive answers.
Without NBA options, Fredette spent last season in the D-League, playing for the Knicks affiliate in Westchester.
“You’d never see him with his head down frustrated; he accepted what it was and made the best out of the situation,” says Jordon Crawford, a teammate of Fredette’s in Westchester. “He was a great teammate — Always brought positive vibes around, shared in the experience, shared wisdom from times playing. I always asked him about other teammates, who he liked, his days at BYU — he was great to be around.”
Resurgent, Fredette set the D-league ablaze, averaging 21 points per game, while shooting 41 percent from long range – scraping his way back towards the NBA, one three at a time.
“It happens to guys over the course of their career [going to the D-League], Fredette says. “You just have to continue to keep your head down and not get discouraged. Know that you’re still a great basketball player and you can play with anybody, it’s just you haven’t quite found the right situation yet. Keep your positive attitude. When you do get an opportunity you want to be in the right mind frame.”
Most players in Fredette’s position would have chased more lucrative opportunities overseas, where salaries can be as much as 10 times those of the D-League.
“I’ve loved the game of basketball since I was four or five-years old”, Fredette says. “I was still getting paid last year, so it wasn’t necessarily a financial decision for me. It was more of where I felt like I could get a lot of playing time and also continue to work as best as I could and hopefully get back into the NBA as quickly as I could. In the D-League that’s a good opportunity for teams to see you every single night.”
Even in places like Westchester, Canton, Sioux Falls — the geographical blips that make up the D-League – “Jimmer Mania” still exists — there’s Something about a small guard who lights up the scoreboard with outside shooting that resonates. The more winding Fredette’s journey becomes, the more endearing his story is with fans.
“That was the best part of being a teammate of him”, Crawford says. “You’d have a bunch of fans that would come in before we even got to the gym. It would be like 50 to 100 people everywhere we go waiting to see him. As soon as he got the ball (fans would be yelling at) him to shoot from full court, half court.”
“Jimmer Fredette? That name’s straight out of Hoosiers. No wonder he never misses.” – Steve Nash, 2011
For the past week, Fredette has joined the fray in Vegas – suiting up with the Denver Nuggets’ summer affiliate — competing with hundreds of players vying for the same precious few NBA roster spots.
Beyond the lottery picks – (Simmons, Ingram, Russell) Summer League reads like a who’s who of the has-beens and never weres of the basketball universe. Fredette is more or less an outlier – a 27-year old once hailed as a franchise savior, who played a combined total of six NBA games between two franchises in the past season.
“It’s great to be able to be in front of all 30 teams”, Fredette says. “I’m playing for the Nuggets, but I’m not just playing for the Nuggets since I’m not on a roster.”
After opening Summer League with four points on 2-of-7 shooting, Fredette has poured in vintage performances of 26 and 18 points on near 50 percent from the floor since.
“I call it ‘The Jimmer Show,’” Crawford says with a chuckle. “I went to two games since I’ve been out here. As soon as I get there we got little hand signs, little cues that we do from when we played this season. You can see him on the court, the difference it felt like when I got there…I don’t know, maybe I’m good luck.”
It’s hard to tell where Fredette fits in the NBA going forward – he’s undersized and has been labeled a defensive liability over the years. Still, there’s always room in the Steph Curry NBA on the end of the bench for a pure volume scorer.
“The criticism with me has always been the defensive end”, Fredette says. “But, I feel like I’ve been playing some pretty good defense, especially here in the Summer League – showing people I can play that end of the floor as well and not be a liability. I think last year in the D-League I had a good defensive year. I’ve been shooting the ball really well lately. I will continue to be aggressive. I think that’s what teams are looking for in me. Be able to come in and score consistently on a night in night out basis, I feel I’ve proven that I can do that over the course of the year. Hopefully it will be enough to get a shot somewhere.”
Regardless of if he is in the NBA or not this coming season, there will be opportunities somewhere.
“No, I won’t be back in The D-League this year if I don’t make an NBA team. It will either be an NBA team or somewhere over in Europe”, Fredette says.