With Monkey Off Its Back, BYU Sets Sights High
Now regarded as a first-team preseason All-American according to multiple prominent publications, Fredette left an opportunity he was told could land him a first-round selection in the 2010 draft to rejoin a program where players often spend six years.
Basically, you won't see John Calipari coaching there anytime soon.
Though, Fredette isn't the only Cougar returning from a vastly different environment to a squad that just advanced BYU further into the NCAAs than it's reached since Danny Ainge brought home the Wooden Award.
"With him coming back, he's going to draw attention of course," Cougars junior Noah Hartsock said. "He's a great penetrator and passer, and I think that's going to open up a lot more for other players on the team. When Jimmer gets in there in the middle, he's going to draw double and triple teams. He's going to be able to pass it and we have great shooters."
Along with a perimeter attack that last season ranked second nationally in points per game (83) and tied for second in three-point field goal percentage (42 percent), BYU will add cogs to its frontcourt in Chris Collinsworth and Nick Martineau. They have spent the past two years in Mormon missionary work, which most of the team completes.
They'll join Hartsock in the post who, after completing two years of missionary service straight out of high school, eventually succeeded in the transition back to basketball and earned the team's Most Improved Player award last season.
"It has a lot to do with getting back in shape and getting used to the different basketball (moves)," Hartsock said. "Playing in high school to going to mission to going to college, it was a big leap. During those years, you don't get a lot of time to work out.
"I think it just took a couple months to get my legs in shape, get used to the system, and get used to how college basketball is played. It just helped me out a lot (to) learn from older players."
The Cougars will lose third-leading scorer Tyler Haws to missionary work this year. BYU associate head coach Dave Rice agreed that this option to players -- a majority of BYU's roster typically partakes in this two-year departure -- creates a bit of a unique situation when it comes distributing scholarships and helping players transition back into the team. Rice, who played on UNLV's high-flying 1989-1990 national championship team and coordinates the Cougars' offense and recruiting efforts, assured this is nothing the staff can't manage through workouts and a spreadsheet of commitments.
The graduation of leading frontcourt scorer Jonathan Tavernari also shouldn't go underestimated. Junior Brandon Davies, who has drawn praise from Rice as the most improved player coming into this season, should help make up production within a group forwards led by Hartsock that are very much in sync with their point guard.
"Noah's a very good pick-and-roll player because he can both go to the basket and finish at the basket," said Fredette, who has since childhood studied the way John Stockton bounced passes off the dribble. "But (Noah) can also pop and get the ball and shoot the mid-range jumper, even three pointer."
Forwards Collinsworth and Davies also figure to factor in huge with the pick and roll, allowing the Cougars more opportunities to emulate the old Stockton and Karl Malone Utah Jazz teams that played about an hour's drive from campus.
BYU's hopes for improving on last March's No. 7 seed could rest on whether the Cougars grow stronger on the boards. They tied for 67th in the nation in rebounds per game, which seems a bit low considering how fast they push tempo and create shots.
However, it's also important to note that their plethora of sharp shooters -- really, efficiency from all over the court -- doesn't leave as many rebounds to be had. Last season, BYU tied for 10th in field goal percentage and topped the nation in free throw percentage en route to a 30-6 record.
Fredette, who pulled out after testing the NBA Draft waters because he did not receive a contract guarantee early on, plays a major role in those numbers and the offense's ability to play its manic style.
Fellow point/shooting guard hybrid Stephen Curry has praised Fredette. Arizona coach Sean Miller sat in awe during his postgame press conference after Fredette posted a BYU-record 49 points against his team in December.
The upstate New York native then turned things up a notch for the postseason, bursting for 30- and 45-point performances in the Mountain West Conference tournament and 37 in an opening round, double-overtime win over Florida in the NCAAs. Fredette recalls the closing moments of that game to be not only extremely emotional, but the fondest of his time on the BYU basketball team.
And why not? The program had just broken through and narrowly avoided its eighth straight first-round exit, a streak spanning 17 years.
"This team has been through a lot," Cougars head coach Dave Rose said afterward.
Fredette was still pushing through the aftermath of catching mononucleosis in January.
Rose also fought through illness in time to guide his team to the postseason, though with a far more serious case. Rose began treatment for pancreatic cancer in the summer of 2009 and had his spleen, part of his pancreas and six lymph nodes removed.
In late July, an MRI scan showed the cancer had left, and Rose would return to coach an offense that his point guard loves.
"It's great, (Rose) let's you play freely," said Fredette, who can sport a unique variety of shot angles, including a nifty scoop shot that he mastered while playing against his older brother, T.J., whose rap music Jimmer listens to before games. "(Coach) wants you to fast-break every single play."
All of this has led to BYU receiving much-warranted hype heading into the 2010-2011 campaign. Fredette, who averaged 22.1 points per game in 2009-10, isn't alone with the scoring load, as team captain Jackson Emery notched 12.5 per game while hitting countless timely trifectas along the way. He completes what is probably the best backcourt in the MWC and one of the top units in the country.
"Jackson Emery is without question the unsung hero of our team. Certainly with the backcourt that we have, it would not be that backcourt if it was not for (Emery)," said Rice. "Jimmer Fredette obviously has gotten an unbelievable amount of publicity and for good reason -- he is a terrific player who will play in the NBA. Jackson Emery is just as important in the equation as Jimmer.
"I think the thing about Jackson, the word that really sums up what he does is versatility. He's just a do it all guy for us; he'll make big baskets, he always guards the other team's best perimeter player."
This duo does not provide the only good reason to press the perimeter against BYU, as the Cougars have snipers set up all over the court. Even their big men sport reliable a jumper.
"That's what's great about playing here at BYU," Hartsock said. "We're always surrounded by great shooters. On this team everyone, can shoot from 18 feet or even further."
So how do you a beat a team that possesses a dynamic point guard and excels at the lost art of jump shooting? This strategy hasn't succeeded too often over the past year, but Kansas State did excel with heavy defensive pressure in its 84-72 win over BYU in the second round in March.
"Kansas State, they're a great team, a great coach. Big, athletic and strong and quick," Hartsock said. "I think we were able to play with them, but they were really a physical team ... Most of us were here for a majority of (this offseason) lifting weights and getting stronger ... I think a lot of us were able to put on weight and put on muscle."
Fresh off a 99-92 double-overtime win in the first round, the Cougars rushed out to a 10-0 lead against Kansas State before falling behind for good midway through the game.
Fredette played pick-up games in New York prisons while growing up to toughen him for just the kind of physicality and hard-hitting defense a team like Kansas State would provide, which included a few accidental, yet rough, shots to the face.
"It just makes it so that you don't be bothered by those types of things," Fredette said. "You just kind of go out and play through it and not learn to get frustrated by it or say anything to the refs or say anything to the other players, and it's just part of the game."
Whatever lessons and lumps the Cougars took against Kansas State, it didn't eradicate the euphoria and promise that the dramatic, exhausting first-round win gave this team and program.
A monkey that had grown 17 years heavy has been wrested off the Cougars back and BYU now sets its sights on a return to the Elite Eight, where the school hasn't set foot since Ainge was draining shots from all over the hardwood in Provo, Utah.
"I think (the win) really does a lot for our program and for our confidence that we were able to accomplish that (after not) getting out of the first round in such a long time," Hartsock said. "I think that really set a new mindset and a new goal for us this year."