Deconstructing Jimmer Fredette, College Basketball's Matinee Idol
The guard is the toast of the NCAA tournament, despite the fact that he plays in a style college fans usually hate. How does he do it?
Jimmer Fredette, Brigham Young University's muscular, scruffy-headed senior guard, is the toast of the college basketball world. He led the nation in scoring at 28.5 points per game during the regular season, and has upped the ante for the tournament. So far, Fredette has averaged 33 points a game for the Cougars, a number three seed with a vague chance of reaching the Final Four. He's likely the Player of the Year, and when Jimmer's on the court, both stodgy mainstream announcers and the ragged voices of Twitter whip themselves into a frenzy. He is at once a standard-bearer and a cult hero, who can count among his fans NBA stars like Kevin Durant.
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March Madness is supposed to be a sprawling, punctured, action-tapestry, resistant to the Great Man syndrome. But Jimmer—sometimes called "The Jimmer", just so the homey, mythic definite article can come into play—is proof that even college ball loves a good matinee idol.
NCAA skeptic that I am, I couldn't help but dislike Jimmer Fredette at first. I saw a strong, shoot-first guard capable of putting up a lot of points against, well, a bunch of college players—and by no means always the cream of the NCAA crop. It's also difficult to talk about the way Jimmer is fawned over without stating it at least once: college basketball, which reads as the antithesis of the big, bad, black NBA, is always on the lookout for Great White Hopes. Even if—especially if—it doesn't have to much concern itself with what happens next.
Is Jimmer the only player in the NCAA capable of putting up these kind of numbers? It's doubtful. There are likely African-American student-athletes—at bigger programs, and who came in with NBA dreams from the beginning—who could pretty handily tear it up if they were put in Jimmer's situation. There's a good reason why they don't: playing for BYU doesn't exactly provide the best shot at a pro career, and lots of other high-level talents want in at the schools that do. On top of that, high-volume collegiate shooters are frowned upon—not only by college coaches, but by pro scouts who worry they won't be able to adjust to a team where they're no longer the center of attention.
Jimmer-love, the impulse that has raised him to such mythic heights this winter, is all about the narrative, and an NBA future just doesn't need to enter the picture. Lauding college ball for being the opposite of the NBA is one thing, but when an individual burns so brightly at this level, it only makes sense to want him to see what's next. Doesn't it? Maybe no one wants to consider that it could all be an illusion, or revisit precedents for Jimmer like Gonzaga's Adam Morrison. Morrison was drafted in the lottery after three years of feasting on college defenders, It didn't work out for him as a pro, and his NCAA salad days are like a foundation of asterisks.
In Jimmer's case, the way he plays the game practically forces you to consider his pro prospects. Fredette doesn't need to change, or translate, his game to the NBA. The kid already plays like a pro, just at a level where such things aren't supposed to be honored, allowed, or even possible. He doesn't just scores at will on clearly inferior players—Fredette does so artfully, using speed, size, and timing to throw off defenders. Jimmer has never met a shot he didn't like; they're good shots, for him, because they usually go in. But a large number of his field goal attempts, especially those from beyond the arc, are anything but disciplined, or even well-reasoned.
He's a gunner, plain and simple, and on top of that, one with some attitude. He yaps at refs for foul calls. He looks to take over games rather than trusting the mysterious rhythms of college ball to spit out a W for his team after a series of endless free throws; he kicks the ball out as a last resort. But Jimmer also has real presence, something lacking in even future NBA lottery picks like Kyrie Irving or Brandon Knight. The best comparison I've heard for him thus far? Gilbert Arenas, during his few years of meteoric brilliance with the Washington Wizards.
Will Jimmer ever be as good as Arenas? Of course not. The point is, though, that he's not just breaking the rules of college ball, he's shattering its context. Somehow, Jimmer is acceptable to a college basketball audience that normally hates his style of play; somehow, he can clearly evoke that next level of basketball without forcing anyone to acknowledge its legitimacy. We can set out to deconstruct Jimmer Fredette, but maybe, he's the one doin' the damn thing to all of us.