Jimmer Fredette, that high-scoring, white-hot hoops sensation, is back playing basketball on U.S. soil and nothing seems to have changed. He hits ridiculous shots from all over the floor, scores at will and has a relationship with the basket that could inspire romance novels.
For the past two years, he’s been playing in China, where he kept doing Jimmer-y things – 73 points in one game, 51 in another – but this summer he’s had a chance to remind American basketball fans of just what made him such a fun college player to watch.
“I’ve been getting a lot of messages, texts, different social media things,” the 29-year old Fredette said in a telephone interview Thursday. “It’s been fun. It’s cool that an American audience is able to check it all out.”
The former Brigham Young star is the centerpiece of Team Fredette in The Basketball Tournament, the ever-growing, $2 million, winner-takes-all event that draws to a close with Friday’s championship in Baltimore. Fredette is playing in the tournament for the first time, and to no one’s surprise, he’s been lighting up the scoreboard. In the four games that preceded this week’s semifinals, Fredette posted video game-like scoring totals – 32, 30, 28, 41 – and now his squad has a shot at the tournament’s big prize.
Team Fredette faces a team called Eberlein Drive late Thursday night in the semifinals. The winner could be forced to square off against the makings of a dynasty in the finals. Overseas Elite, a talented squad made up of Americans playing professional basketball overseas, has won the league title the past three years and is a favorite to win again.
The tournament has grown each year – it now has a shoe sponsor in Puma and a TV deal with ESPN – and as the prize money has grown, the talent level has increased. This year’s tournament started with 72 teams, many featuring former college stars and professional players who competed on the NBA fringes, in the G-League and overseas. Gonzaga’s entry, Few Good Men, lost in the second round to Saint Mary’s team, Gael Force, during Hoopfest weekend in Spokane.
Greg Oden, a former No. 1 NBA draft pick, and Fredette were this year’s biggest names, but the tournament isn’t won on star power.
Team Fredette was assembled to contend for the big prize, and like every team Fredette’s ever been on, if he’s on and his shot is falling, anything is possible.
“Everyone knows Jimmer and what he’s capable of,” said D.J. Kennedy, the St. John’s product who’s been a cornerstone of Overseas Elite. “He’s been lighting this tournament up so far, so that’s made it fun for everybody.”
Fredette rose to national prominence as the fearless, high-scoring guard who led BYU to the Sweet Sixteen round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, firing shots from all corners of the corner and becoming a staple of highlight shows. He set several school and conference scoring records, won most of the player-of-the-year awards and also an ESPY. Even President Barack Obama raved about him when he unveiled his NCAA Tournament bracket that year.
His skill set did not translate perfectly to the NBA. He was a first-round draft pick but bounced between four teams in five seasons, averaging only 6 points and struggling to play a supporting role.
Fredette jumped to the Chinese Basketball Association in 2016 where he’s again a star. He’s averaged 37 points in two seasons and won the league’s international MVP award. He’s re-signed with the Sharks – reportedly for $1.8 million – delaying any potential NBA comeback, and reports to Shanghai next month for his third season there.
This summer’s tournament, he says, is the closest he’s felt to his college days.
“It’s similar,” he said. “The one-and-done format, starting with 64 teams, playing three weekends. And obviously it’s pressure-filled because if you lose, you’re out.”
Unlike high-stakes games in college or in professional leagues, Team Fredette is playing for something quite tangible – and bankable – in Baltimore. The $2 million prize would be divvied up among players, team organizers and a handful of boosters. But only if they win out.
“It feels more real now,” Fredette said Thursday. “The fact that you have a chance to win the prize money, everything is going to be heightened, as far as intensity is concerned.
”But besides the money, for me, it’s a chance to play some competitive basketball in the summertime. In China, the season is shorter, and I have six months off where I don’t play a real game. So this gives me a chance to play for something to be of value.“
Fredette thinks his squad is building chemistry and getting better each time on the court, but they could still be at a disadvantage if they reach Friday’s championship. Overseas Elite has played 24 games in four years competing in The Basketball Tournament. They’ve never lost.
With a roster that features former college stars DeJuan Blair and Kyle Fogg, Overseas Elite has familiarity with both each other and the high stakes of the tournament.
”We know the target was bigger than ever this year,“ said Kennedy, who plays professionally in Turkey, his seventh country since 2013. ”To do a four-peat is gonna be harder than ever. But we’ve been here before. We know what’s at stake in every game. There’s no room for errors and you can’t take a single play off.“
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