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Monson: Jimmer Fredette really is basketball’s ‘Lonely Master’

First Published      Last Updated Apr 11 2017 10:55 pm


A basketball god in China, Jimmer Fredette still can’t get much attention from the NBA.

There are a whole lot of respected basketball experts who think Jimmer Fredette has been balling out exactly where he should be — some 6,500 miles from the United States, in Shanghai. There, at least, a billion Chinese do care.

In the NBA, executives and coaches do not. Not much, at least.

Reports have surfaced in recent days that the former BYU star received — and declined — 10-day contract offers from NBA teams upon his return from the Chinese Basketball Association, where he tore up the league for the Shanghai Sharks, averaging 37.6 points per game. He did for the Sharks what he did for BYU, hitting all kinds of shots from all kinds of distances, wowing crowds and drawing them, too. Those buying tickets to Sharks games wanted to see what the "Lonely Master" or "Lonely God," as they called him, would do next.




He did Jimmer things — scoring, in this case, from the Pearl Tower, over the Great Wall, off the Lama Temple, through the Potala Palace and the Pudong Skyline, off the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, nothing but net.

He won the CBA's All-Star 3-point shootout. He was the All-Star game's MVP. He was the league's MVP. He went for 73 points in a Sharks' regular-season game. He stirred and caught the imaginations of basketball lovers all over that faraway land, essentially by doing whatever he felt like doing on the court, whatever he felt like his team needed, and his team allowed him to give it what it needed.

That's never been the situation here, not in any pro configuration north of the D-League.

The form in Shanghai was familiar — the bombs from deep, the drives, the stop-and-pops, the soap-on-a-rope squib shots, the running floaters, the whole Jimmer repertoire. You've seen it before, back when Fredette used to crush Wyoming and New Mexico and San Diego State.

He gave the CBA what it had lacked in recent years — an American player who could make them pause and wonder … How'd he do that?

They never did figure it out, which is why they kept coming to see him — and will keep on coming, if he returns to China. He signed a shoe deal with a Chinese company and could make big money if he goes back. Millions of basketball fans over there are captivated by him. They seem as baffled by Jimmer's unique talents as BYU fans are at his inability to stay in the NBA.

Fredette did, apparently, conjure a kind of double-clutched interest from those hesitant NBA teams, the exact ones yet unknown. The reports are not specific about who did the contacting or what the level of interest was. It didn't matter, though, because Fredette chose to instead go home to spend time with his wife, Whitney, and the couple's baby girl.

It must be a bit confusing to Fredette, too, that he can be considered basketball deity in the Celestial Empire and be nothing more than a basketball throwaway in the United States. After being drafted 10th in the 2011 NBA draft, that's what he's been — marginal, unwanted, disposable. Didn't stick with the Kings, the Bulls, the Pelicans, the Spurs, the Knicks. Can they all be wrong?

I did a radio show last year on which U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch and Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey appeared. During the segment, Hatch tried to convince Lindsey to sign Fredette, by asking him about the possibility three different times. Lindsey smiled and pretty much ignored the questions.

Fredette is a peculiar specimen, a 6-foot-2 shooter who is most effective when he dominates the ball. He has tried to prove he can pass, which he has to some extent, and defend, which he has not to any extent.

I've always thought there must be a place in the NBA for a guard who has Fredette's range. The knock on his defense is hard to argue against. And most, if not all, of the NBA's executives are not about to allow Fredette the kind of freedom that made him what he was in Provo, what makes him what he's become in Shanghai.

His numbers from earlier stints in the NBA are spotty, as were his opportunities to play: averages of 6 points and 1.4 assists per game, a 41.2 field goal percentage, 38.1 percent from 3-point range, 88 percent from the free-throw line. He scored 33 points when the Sharks, run by Yao Ming, played the Houston Rockets in an exhibition. And while none of that has convinced anyone that Fredette's scoring makes up for his liabilities, it is worth considering that there are a whole lot of players currently in the NBA who could never average 37.6 points in the CBA.

All of which leaves James Taft Fredette in a basketball no-man's land, stuck between the NBA and every other pro league on the planet. He can do great things on a team in a lesser league that will let him do them and not much on any team in a better league that won't.

He is a lonely master in China, able to play anywhere; a lonely man with no elevated place to play in the country he calls home.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM. Twitter: @GordonMonson.

 

AT A GLANCE

About Jimmer Fredette

Age » 28

Hometown » Glens Falls, N.Y.

College » BYU

Honors » 2010-11 national college player of the year

NBA Draft » Selected 10th overall in 2011

NBA teams » Sacramento, Chicago, New Orleans, San Antonio, New York Knicks

This season » Played in the Chinese Basketball Association for the Shanghai Sharks, averaging 37.6 points per game and winning All-Star Most Valuable Player honors. Also was the CBA 3-point shootout winner and International Most Valuable Player.


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