A decade later, ‘JimmerMania’ just won’t quit. And Paris Olympics could be the next stop

A soft rain fell over Biscayne Bay, barely visible from inside, unless you were looking at the flood lights shining upward from the base of the palm trees planted in the middle of concrete.

The makeshift warehouse next to Miami’s FTX Arena had a roof and some, but not four, walls, so the strength of the rain is important. They had to stop the game for about 20 minutes when a light drizzle became a downpour — as rain is wont to do in South Florida — and the wind blew those steady sheets of precipitation under the roof and onto the floor.

When the heavy stuff drifted off toward the bay and only a faint drizzle remained, they pulled the tarp off the court, and the latest iteration of JimmerMania resumed.

This isn’t the way you remember it and looks almost nothing like it did nearly 12 years ago when the whole thing began, the night Kawhi Leonard and San Diego State bused onto Brigham Young’s campus for a showdown against Jimmer Fredette and the Cougars, when students stood outside the Marriott Center days in advance for tickets, and Jimmer dropped 43.

That night, Jan. 26, 2011, a national phenomenon began, one where we all flocked to “SportsCenter” to seek out the latest Jimmer highlight. Where the skinny, 6-foot-2 White kid from Glens Falls, NY, suddenly couldn’t go to a Pizza Hut without being stopped for an autograph. Where Fredette went off for 52 points in a conference tournament game, then never scored below 30 in three stunning NCAA Tournament performances, which ended with a near upset of Florida in the Sweet 16. Where he was named National Player of the Year and was made a subsequent NBA lottery pick.

This? Yeah, it’s almost nothing like that. Only six guys were on the court, instead of 10. The boundaries of the playing surface only extend from under the basket to the half court. They were outside and interrupted by a rain delay. There were a couple hundred fans, maybe, crowded in a few rows of bleachers around the court. Some of them were at tables, charging their phones in outlets embedded in a pillar.

But the name on the untucked No. 5 jersey said, “Fredette,” and that jumper is still lethal. It spins so tightly as it flicks off his right hand, and the last one he took on a rainy Sunday night in Miami ripped the net and broke a few hearts. It was a game-winning 2 (behind what we think of as the 3-point line), and Team USA’s 3-on-3 team beat Puerto Rico to win something called the FIBA ​​AmeriCup.

In 3-on-3 hoops, games are to 21 or last 10 minutes — whichever comes first. Fredette’s 2-ball gave the Americans a 21-18 win over the Puerto Ricans. As the ball left his hand, someone near the court could be heard shouting, “Game.” They’d seen this show before.

“From where I was from, and my look, and my athleticism and all that stuff, to be able to do that (cause JimmerMania), I think people were inspired, and it was an amazing thing,” Fredette told The Athletic in a lengthy phone call. “I don’t take it for granted. And sometimes things don’t work out the way that you think they’re gonna work out, right? But you just keep going.”

Fredette is 33 now. He lives in Denver with his wife and three young children. His basketball career may have been over by now, JimmerMania a goner, if not for an introduction to Fran Fraschilla — yes, that Fran Fraschilla — the old college coach and current ESPN broadcaster who is on USA Basketball’s men’s 3×3 coaching staff.

Fraschilla lives in Colorado Springs. They were introduced through a mutual friend, and Fraschilla called Fredette over the summer with an idea. They had lunch. They made plans. And because of those plans, the JimmerMania flame still glows. You might not see it yet — did you even know there was such a thing as the AmeriCup for 3-on-3 basketball? — but the grandest of these plans hatched by Fraschilla and by Fredette over cheeseburgers and iced teas was for that flame to burn brightly in Paris in 2024 as part of the Summer Olympics with the Team USA 3-on-3 outfit.

“If you watched him play with us, you wouldn’t know that this is new to him,” Fraschilla said from Miami. “He just has an innate feel for the game. And, I mean, he’s still Jimmer. It’s fun watching him, because it’s still him.”

“For me, it’s more the Olympics than Paris,” Fredette explained. “Like, I don’t care where the Olympics are. To get the chance to be in the opening ceremonies, to get the gear you get, to get a chance to compete for a medal, those are things that drive me.”

JimmerMania is that birthday candle trick that flickers but never extinguishes when you blow on it. One can almost imagine him, in Calvin Klein slacks and a blazer, with Nike Air Maxes, carrying the American flag into the Olympic stadium in France for opening ceremonies, 21 months from now, as the most famous player to ever play 3-on- 3 internationally. The sport made its Olympic debut last year in Tokyo, but the Americans weren’t there. Fredette and Fraschilla are at the center of a movement to change that.

Drafted 10th overall in 2011, the best of Fredette’s six NBA seasons was his first one, when he averaged 7.6 points in 60 games for the Kings. He was perhaps a step too slow to defend against the world’s best. He couldn’t find his place as he bounced between five teams. His last full NBA season was in 2014-15, when he played 50 games for the Pelicans. He had one last cup of coffee in 2018-19, appearing in six games for Phoenix.

Fredette matriculated overseas, to China, where he was handsomely paid and where he starred. In 2016-17, his first season in the Chinese pro league, he scored 50 or more points four different times. Fraschilla was even there for one of the games. Fredette dropped 73 points against Zhejiang Guangsha that season, and in his last year with Shanghai, in 2020-21, at age 31, he drained 11 3s and rung up another 70-bill against Sichuan.

He’s made cameos in The Basketball Tournament, the summer fling ESPN airs each summer of former college greats going against one another, and he appeared as “Slick Nick,” the Manning Brothers-spawned spoof for ESPN where Fredette went undercover to “try out” at BYU in a wig, to the surprise of the current student-athletes.

Fredette and his wife welcomed their third child during last basketball season, so he stayed home from China. During his time off, he joined the Salt Lake City-based Tandem Ventures, a venture capital firm that Fredette sees as his future, the start of the next phase of life away from the game.

Fredette had every intention of remaining in Denver this fall — and he’s still there most of the time — waiting until at least January to decide if he was going to go back overseas for a shortened, perhaps final pro campaign. And then he got together with Fraschilla and was introduced to the 3-on-3 game.

“I was planning on being home with my family just hanging out,” he said. “I started doing other things — normal people things. Right now, this 3-on-3 is giving me my basketball fix. It was explained to me that there was a possibility to qualify for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. And you know, as soon as I heard that, I was pretty much all in just because of the fact that, you know, to be able to have an opportunity to play in the Olympics would be something that would be a dream come true. ”

International rules for 3-on-3 are convoluted. Teams and individual players have to earn enough points to be eligible to play in the Olympics. Fredette will have to play in tournaments over the next year-plus to be eligible personally, and then the Americans need to have more tournaments like they enjoyed in Miami — where they won.

The goal for Team USA is to qualify for the Paris Olympics by November of next year. The Americans want to avoid what happened to them in 2021, when they were required to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics through a single tournament and lost despite weeks of living and training together at a Hollywood Hills mansion.

Prior to the qualifying tournament, Canyon Berry, Rick Barry’s son, injured his back and couldn’t play. The last-minute replacement didn’t fit, and the Americans did not make it out of that weekend.

Team USA held a training camp over the summer in Brooklyn, with a number of G League players and Fredette. They settled on Fredette, Barry, Kareem Maddox (another member of the 2021 team) and Dylan Travis, who’s played overseas and at Florida Southern, for the AmeriCup.

There is no guarantee any of the players who represented the US in Miami last weekend will be on the team like Paris, but, again, there was a plan hatched, and Fredette was at its center. To their credit, Maddox, a video coordinator with the Minnesota Timberwolves, scored nine points in the AmeriCup championship game, and Barry, a former G Leaguer, was the tournament MVP. But it was Fredette who hit two game-winners.

“The beauty of Jimmer is he’s 33, he’s in great shape, he has a competitive gene that has served him well for his entire career,” Fraschilla said. “He’s in the prime of his game in many ways for this sport. And so my hope is that he enjoys this game enough that it gets his competitive juices going. He still has a great family life in Denver with his wife and three kids. Hopefully he secured his future with all the basketball he’s played. And he could spend the next 20 months trying to make the Olympic team and make us better. And I think he would be in the ballpark of having a great shot to be one of our guys.”

In the 3-on-3 game, the shot clock is only 12 seconds. After a made basket, the opposite team throws the ball in bounds from underneath the hoop, and it has to be taken back to the 2-point line (it’s a 2-point; 1-point game). After a miss, if the defending team rebounds the ball, it has to go out to the 2-point line.

Offensive actions are often limited to one screen-and-roll, maybe one backdoor cut or off-ball screen if the ballhandler is working in isolation. Precision passing and conditioning are key. It helps to be a dead-eye, knock-down shooter. Fredette shot 37 percent from 3-point range in the NBA for his career and 39 percent in college.

And, you know, the ability to score from anywhere, at any time, no matter the shot, well, that’s good too.

“It feels like you’re just out there playing basketball, like I was when I was younger, and you’re just outside playing with your friends,” Fredette said. “You’ve got to be able to shoot, you’ve got to be able to pass, you got to be able to dribble, you got to be able to think on the fly. Obviously that type of stuff is in my game.

“I’d love to be able to do anything I can to help USA 3-on-3 basketball grow,” he continued. “They’ve been great to me and to my family, and I think it’s a great option for guys to continue to play and develop their skill and try to make the Olympics.”

Paris, you’ve been warned. JimmerMania is headed your way.

(Photo of Jimmer Fredette: Trenton Miller / USA Basketball)


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