Hoop dreams

Finding hope, even in the D-League

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What’s in a dream?

On occasion, a dream becomes fully realized. The majority of the time, however, life unfolds in a myriad of ways that is largely out of one’s control, creating pressures and realities that don’t coincide with the achievement of a goal.

When do those elements become so overwhelming that they cause someone to simply give up entirely, or at least shift their focus to something more attainable?

Consider, for example, James “Jimmer” Fredette. His dream began before he even reached kindergarten when he picked up an inflated orange ball for the first time.

“Basketball was always something that was ingrained in me just because my parents love sports,” said Fredette, who signed a 10-day contract with the New York Knicks on Monday. “My (older) brother was always playing in the backyard and playing organized basketball, and I would go to the games and be the water boy and shoot at halftime. I was playing basketball all the time and I realized I wanted to be good at it and kept working as hard as I could.”

Fredette’s hard-working mentality comes from his upbringing in Glens Falls, a “blue collar” city as Fredette describes it in upstate New York at the foothills of the Adirondacks.

“It was a great community to grow up in. Everybody knows everybody,” Fredette said. “I was able to have amazing friends that I still have today and I love being from there. I’m just a normal guy and try to remember where I came from no matter what I am.”

The same person who’s ultra-competitive on the court is just as happy spending time with his wife, Whitney, and golden retriever, George. He’s the same person who trains in the offseason with his uncle, Lee Taft, who works as an athletic consultant for speed training. He’s the same person who wanted his interview to take place in an inconspicuous location so as not to show up his teammates by drawing attention or placing the spotlight on himself.

“I think that’s pretty much me,” Fredette admits. “I try to always be a good guy first and a basketball player second. I always want to make sure that I’m doing the right things and be able to have a great career, but it’s more important for me to be a good guy and to have people remember me for that.”

Fredette’s on-court talents were obvious early in his playing career.  As an eighth-grader, he played on the freshman squad of his high school team (the only reason he wasn’t on varsity is because the rules precluded it at the time). His talent clearly outshone the other players on the court, but the country as a whole didn’t get to witness it until Fredette’s final two seasons at Brigham Young University.

Fredette began to get looks from the NBA as a junior, but he believed his dream could only happen if he continued to put in the work.

“I had a great time at BYU. It was like a second home for me,” Fredette recalled. “People out there just kind of took me under their wing. I was 2,000 miles away from home and didn’t know any of the people out there but the basketball guys and I just had to work my way up.”

During his senior year in 2010-11, Fredette led the nation in scoring at 28.9 points per game and was named Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, a first-team All-American, and the 2011 National Player of the Year. He carried the Cougars to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history, landing him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

“I appreciate that time because I know I had to work for it in order to be where I am today and it makes it sweeter when you’re able to get there,” Fredette said. “So I’m appreciative of my teammates there and obviously coach (Dave) Rose and all of the coaches that helped me get here.”

Just seven games into his NBA career with the Kings, the very coach that pushed to draft him, Paul Westphal, was fired after a 2-5 start.

“Sometimes there are things that happen that aren’t in your control,” says Fredette. “You don’t know what’s going to happen in the NBA but I tried not to get frustrated or discouraged. I knew I could play well when an opportunity comes and just pushed forward. I learned that you can control how hard you work. You can control your attitude. You can control if you’re happy or not and those things are important in basketball because sometimes you can’t control how much you’re playing.”

Westphal was replaced by Keith Smart, who was fired after 141 games. Mike Malone followed Smart, but Fredette’s contract was bought out in February 2014. He signed with the Chicago Bulls for the rest of the 2014 season and appeared in 50 games the following year with the New Orleans Pelicans. He would later sign with the San Antonio Spurs in 2015 but was waived after appearing in only two preseason games.

“I had a great time in all of the cities,” Fredette said. “Chicago is a great sports town. I loved being able to live there while (coach Tom Thibodeau) taught me a lot defensively and how to prepare as an NBA player. I had some great friends and relationships on the Pelicans and got to experience the New Orleans culture. And then the Spurs, they’re very different with their approach than any other team I’ve played for. They’re very conscious of your health and your rest and want to make sure that you’re in tip-top shape every time you step out on the floor.”

On October 31, 2015, Fredette was selected second overall by the Westchester Knicks in the NBA D-League Draft. Fredette would eventually find his way back to New Orleans for a cup of coffee before he was reacquired by Westchester less than three weeks later.

With plenty of options at his disposal, including the possibility of playing overseas, Westchester again felt like the right fit.

“Obviously a ton of guys get pulled up every single year so it’s a great league to be a part of where you can go and get better and focus on your game and focus on working hard and getting better,” said Fredette.

It didn’t hurt that during NBA All-Star weekend in Toronto, Fredette starred, scoring a D-League All-Star Game-record 35 points and taking home MVP honors. While his offensive prowess was never in doubt, Fredette spent his time focusing on the other side of the ball.

“It doesn’t matter that I’m a bit smaller, I can still get around guys,” he maintains. “I can still get my shot off. I can still play the way that I feel like I’m capable of. I just try to work that much harder on the defensive end. If the guys are trying to post me up, I just fight them and show them that I’m a competitive guy that’s not just going to let things go easy.”

Throughout all the trials and tribulations, the different coaches, teams and cities, the praise and rejection, Fredette’s wife and family have always been a constant source of comfort.

“They’ve been unbelievably supportive,” Fredette says. “There are a lot of ups and downs in your professional career, whether it be basketball or anything, and you need family there to support you. My wife has done an amazing job with that since I’ve been in the NBA. I’m able to talk with her through my problems and issues or good things and bad. She’s been my rock and been amazing to be able to do that. And then I’m always able to call my family, my parents, my brother, my sister…they’ve been great. It’s important to have a life outside of basketball and your family is your life outside of basketball.”

Prior to signing with the NBA’s Knicks, Fredette ranked fifth overall in D-League scoring, averaging 22.8 points per game. As far as playing for the Knicks in Madison Square Garden, the thought may have crossed his mind at an earlier age.

“I grew up a Knicks fan and have played in Madison Square Garden several times in my career and it’s the best place to play in the world. I love the arena and the vibe of it. I’m more focused on the task at hand and getting better. Whatever happens in the future, we’ll see.”

All Fredette needed was another shot and now he has at least 10 days to show the adjustments and improvements he’s made since he last appeared in an NBA game.

“You gotta stay patient and stay humble and continue to work hard,” Fredette says. “Sometimes you want things right away and that doesn’t always happen and when you do get an opportunity you take advantage of it.”

Fredette is anyone who has ever woken up with a dream. Now, he gets another chance to fulfill it.