Oklahoma City His mother is Catholic. His brother is a rapper. He honed his game in prison playing against inmates. He scored 37 points in an opening-round NCAA Tournament double-overtime thriller against a school that won national titles in back-to-back years. And he was recruited to play football for Penn State.
In other words, Jimmer Fredette is just your typical Brigham Young University basketball player.
Next thing you know Oklahoma’s going to get slammed with a snow storm in late March.
Fredette, a broad-shouldered, 6-foot-2 guard who handles the basketball like a yo-yo champion handles his instrument of choice and shoots so well that it seems his most limiting defender is the out-of-bounds line, stands in the way of Kansas State advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1988.
Fredette has a chance to become the Stephen Curry, Bryce Drew, Billy Donovan — take your pick — of this year’s tournament in that he’s a great player on a team that hasn’t had one of those in quite some time.
One of his top strengths matches up with one of Kansas State’s biggest weaknesses. He gets to the free-throw line a lot and K-State tends to get whistled for a ton of fouls. The Wildcats play rough. That’s OK. Fredette’s used to it. His older brother T.J. made sure of that.
T.J., just another aspiring Mormon rapper in a world filled with them, years ago had his brother dribble down a dark, narrow church hallway, lit only by a lamp at the end. T.J. would pop out of a different room each time, a physical surprise attack designed at making Jimmer keep control of the ball under tough circumstances.
When Jimmer reached 18 years of age, T.J. brought him, their father Al, and some other buddies to play against inmates at the Mount McGregor Prison in Saratoga and the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock.
“They were very physical, for sure,” Fredette said. “They were big, strong guys. But it was good. They were good sports, and you know, they would foul you hard and help you back up because they knew if they didn’t act good that the privilege would be taken away from them and they didn’t want that. They wanted to stay out and wanted to play against us. It was always really tough, competitive games, but there was never any trouble so it was fun.”
The strategy teams often apply to slow down shooters — chucking them at every opportunity while they move without the ball — isn’t really an option because Fredette has the ball in his hands so much of the time. The daunting defensive assignment, at least at the start of the game, falls to Dominique Sutton, who has three inches on Fredette. Hack-a-Jimmer is not an advisable tactic. He made 35 of 36 free throws in the Mountain West Conference tournament and the Cougars played only two games in it.
“I’ve guarded a lot of tough guys on a lot of teams,” Sutton said. “I don’t think you can get any harder than James Anderson of Oklahoma State. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m up for it.”
When Fredette gets past Sutton, physical big men will be waiting. If they can avoid fouling Fredette, K-State should advance. If not, BYU could move on to a most-friendly Salt Lake City crowd.