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Jimmer Fredette looks back at ‘Jimmermania’ and talks about lessons he learned

The Cougars beating San Diego State in Provo in January 2011 is when many say ‘Jimmermania’ truly started. The Aztecs return to the Marriott Center on Friday night.

BYU's Jimmer Fredette yells toward the crowd after making a three pointer during a game against San Diego State's during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Provo, Utah, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011. BYU beat San Diego State 71-58. (AP Photo/George Frey)

The crowd roared every time Jimmer Fredette tickled the twine with his patented jump shot.

It was Jan. 26, 2011, and the No. 9 BYU Cougars were hosting the undefeated No. 4 San Diego State Aztecs, a team that featured future NBA champion Kawhi Leonard. The game was deemed the most anticipated in the history of the Mountain West Conference due to the respective star power of Fredette and Leonard. ESPN reported at the time that tickets to the Marriott Center had been sold out for a week.

Fredette ended the game with 43 points and 5-of-8 shooting from the 3-point line. He played all but one minute. His scoring output accounted for 60% of BYU’s total in the 71-58 win.

Fredette walked onto the floor that night with plenty of local buzz. He’d had a solid junior season and plenty of impressive moments before beating Leonard and the Aztecs in Game 21 of his senior year. But when he awoke the next morning, his reality completely changed.

“I couldn’t go anywhere without being asked for pictures and autographs, and being on SportsCenter every night, and having a ‘Jimmer Watch,’ and media articles — people calling me to do interviews nonstop,” Fredette told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Fredette was inducted into the BYU Hall of Fame last month in a ceremony attended by his teammates and coaches from the 2010-11 season. On Friday, his former team will play the Aztecs for the fifth time since that pivotal night in Fredette’s basketball career. Entering the game, the Cougars have lost all but one.

Beating San Diego State on that frigid 2011 night in Provo birthed “Jimmermania.” More and more fans started camping outside the Marriott Center days in advance of home games. They waited in rain, sleet or snow. They started recognizing Fredette’s family members, and his first name became a verb.

“Being with Jimmer, like even in close proximity, it was like being with a rock star,” former teammate Anson Winder said. “Everywhere he went, everyone knew who he was. It was people constantly trying to get a picture and autograph, even just shake his hand.”

Moments after the final buzzer against the Aztecs, Fredette stood in front of the scorer’s table facing throngs of BYU fans who had stormed the court in celebration. Former sports information director Kyle Chilton stood a couple of feet in front and to the left of him.

“That was the first time I had seen the Marriott Center floor rushed,” Chilton said.

But Chilton thinks “Jimmermania” actually started a few games earlier — against the Utes on the road. Fredette put up 47 points in the rivalry game.

The lingering memory for many former Cougars from that game was Fredette’s one-footed half-court shot to beat the halftime buzzer, which earned cheers even from the Utah fans.

“A good portion of the crowd’s on their feet cheering him walking off the floor,” former BYU assistant coach Tim LaComb recalled. “It kind of hit me like, ‘Damn, this thing’s way bigger than any of us even realize.’”

Added Fredette’s brother, T.J.: “It’s like something out of a ‘Rocky’ movie.”

T.J. Fredette, who is also writing a screenplay about Jimmer’s life, performed a rap song called “Amazing” before the home game against SDSU that year. It’s about his brother, but it had actually been written during Jimmer’s sophomore year. That’s how much potential big brother saw in little brother.

The BYU team sometimes played “Amazing” in the locker room before games, former teammate Brock Zylstra said. Fredette said that when he first heard his brother’s song about him, he got “goosebumps.”

The word “amazing” in relation to “Jimmermania,” though, could have a double meaning. On the one hand, Fredette and his team had an amazing season in 2010-11 — a season that culminated in a quarterfinal appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

But the cost of fame is something that, for someone who isn’t necessarily prepared for it, could also lead to amazement.

Those who know him well describe Fredette as a quiet, humble and shy person — definitely not the type to demand attention or act above others. So when the national attention tidal wave descended upon him after BYU beat the Aztecs, at times there was no escape.

“He got to the point where he didn’t want to go out much at all,” T.J. Fredette said.

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Jimmer Fredette takes a selfie with fans during the second half of the game at LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday September 20, 2014. BYU won the game 41-33.

Fredette was also gracious with his time, perhaps to a fault. He signed autographs for hours if he had to. He did all the press interviews and TV and radio spots.

But if he wanted to go out on the town for a bite to eat or on a date with his then-girlfriend Whitney, he’d have to make sure he didn’t make eye contact with people. He would hide his face with a hoodie or a hat. Sometimes Whitney would get stuck taking photos of him with fans and ask to go somewhere else.

After home games, fans waited for Fredette to emerge so they could ask for autographs and photos.

“I couldn’t really walk to my car without getting mobbed,” Fredette said.

Eventually, Whitney, now his wife, took her car and picked him up in the loading dock area of the arena, Fredette said. Fans eventually got wise to that tactic and waited for the car to come out so they could tap on the windows and congratulate him on a good game.

T.J. Fredette said opposing fans sometimes made signs making negative comments toward his mother or Whitney, a reality that highlights the dark side of fame.

“Those things are tough to deal with,” T.J. Fredette said. “That stardom and that fame and fanfare does not come without a price.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang (31) reaches down at the ball, held by Phoenix Suns guard Jimmer Fredette (32) as the Utah Jazz host the Phoenix Suns, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Monday March 25, 2019.

But Fredette’s popularity did help his older brother on one occasion. T.J. Fredette recalled an instance in which two police officers stopped him for speeding in Provo. While one officer was writing him a ticket, the other walked over and asked his partner if he recognized the person in the car.

The two officers then realized it was Jimmer Fredette’s brother. Not only did T.J. not receive a ticket, but the three had a pleasant conversation about Fredette for about 20 minutes.

“That was one of times where it was very beneficial to be Jimmer’s brother,” T.J. said with a laugh.

Since leaving BYU, Fredette has played six seasons in the NBA on five different teams. He has consistently been playing internationally since 2017 including most recently with the Chinese Basketball Association. Fredette said he’s most likely going to return to China for another stint, but later in the season due to how difficult it was to be in a sequestered bubble away from his family all of last season.

Even from overseas, Utahns still follow and cheer for him. One night while playing in China, he scored 70 points. The next day, he was back on the national radar, just as he was regularly following that seismic win one decade ago.

Through it all, Fredette has learned some valuable lessons. The main one: People are always watching.

“I think for me, I always tried to be cognizant of that,” Fredette said. “I always wanted to try to be a good example for people and try to treat people the right way. Because I think that that’s how I’m going to make the biggest impact in this world.

“I always tell people that you never know who’s watching you or how you could affect someone’s life in a positive way without even talking to them. And I try to live my life that way as well.”

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