On Thursday night, Jimmer Fredette will step into The Fieldhouse at Morgan State University, a 4,000-seat arena in Maryland, much older and wiser than the BYU senior who took the nation by storm in 2011.
But is the former superstar who flamed out of the NBA better?
That’s the question after every Fredette masterclass, as he’s led a band of overseas and G-League pros into the semifinals of The Basketball Tournament, dazzling like he did from 2007-11 with the Cougars.
The 72-team tournament features former NBA players, college stars of the past and a $2 million prize for the winning squad. And Fredette, part of a team that is among the last four standing, has been dominating.
To make the Final Four, the shooting guard put up 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting and added seven assists to knock out Jared Sullinger and Greg Oden’s Ohio State team.
“I’ve always been pretty confident in my abilities to play the game and that if I get an opportunity to play consistently and be a part of team, then I feel like I’ve always been able to produce,” Fredette, the tournament’s leading scorer, told The Post this week in a phone interview. “And it’s great to be able to show that again.”
Every bucket Fredette drills brings back memories of his stellar college career, when he burst past overmatched Mountain West Conference defenses and redefined 3-point range.
But while the former Knick is still scoring in bunches as a 29-year-old, these performances are no longer a gateway to giddy expectations and potential.
Instead, they’re a reason to ask: Why hasn’t it worked out?
He didn’t last long with the dysfunctional Kings after being the 10th-overall pick in 2011, his shot not translating and his percentages suffering, then saw limited opportunities with the Bulls, Pelicans and finally the Knicks to prove he could contribute as a role player, rather than as the fulcrum of a team.
Being just another player has been a challenge.
“I like to get the ball in transition and go and everything, but I’m also not as dependent on having the ball all the time as I was maybe in college and when I first got to the NBA,” Fredette said.
“I kinda played that way [on the ball] throughout my career, but once I got into the NBA I wasn’t quite as much on the ball so I had to focus on getting better at that aspect of my game. And I’ve been able to do that as I’ve continued to further my career. Now I feel a lot more comfortable playing on the ball and off the ball. And even in this tournament, I’m playing more off the ball.”
Not in China, though, where he has been The Man. He is under contract to play in a third season for the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association, where he was the 2017 MVP and is a two-time All Star. That stellar play makes its way overseas sporadically, with viral clips and gaudy numbers. But the fame has not fully followed him. In a city of over 24 million people, he’s a lot easier to miss in China than in Utah.
“It’s not as bad as when I was at BYU at that point because BYU is a much smaller place,” Fredette said. “And Provo and Utah, they love BYU, so anywhere you go, they know the BYU basketball players and football players.”
But he’s running out of time if he wants to prove himself on the biggest stage. Fredette is unsure about his next career move, saying he “could be somewhere back in the States, it could be somewhere back in China, it could be somewhere else.”
Regardless of where he ends up — a massive city like Shanghai or a college field house in Baltimore, like Thursday — he’ll be grateful.
To him, he’s still playing a child’s game.
“It’s an amazing experience, it’s so much fun to play the game of basketball — a game that you love — for your job,” he said. “And that’s something that I hope guys don’t take for granted. I definitely don’t take it for granted to be able to do that.”
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