TORONTO — So many things looked the same last Saturday. When Jimmer Fredette pulled up from well behind the 3-point line, a swish would follow. He scored with scoops off dribble drives after defenders were suckered in by his expansive shooting range. Fredette scored a D-League All-Star Game-record 35 points in a blink, pouring in jumpers like the old days, like he always had.
Afterward, he stood at midcourt with the game’s MVP trophy cupped in his hands, its weight straightening his arms. Fredette, once a college sensation who was selected 10th overall by the Sacramento Kings in the NBA draft in 2011, plays for the Westchester Knicks these days. For now, he’s in exile.
This past weekend showed the large divide between Fredette’s former and current lives. The D-League All-Star Game was held in aging Ricoh Coliseum, a staid stone structure about 15 minutes west of downtown Toronto used for agricultural displays, hockey and trade shows. It was built for the Canadian National Exhibition and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in 1921. Glamour was not included.
The facility was almost filled Saturday morning and early afternoon. Fans came to watch the Eastern and Western Conference all-stars practice. The Western Conference was second. When luminaries like Stephen Curry and Kobe Bryant spoke in the back of the coliseum, Fredette loosened his body for the D-League 3-point shooting contest. Most fans departed well before he finished second.
Prior to the game, a hopeful video montage ran. That’s what the league is about, after all. It featured several players college basketball junkies would know. Some players from obscure schools, who played for obscure professional teams and are trying to make their way in the league, remained mysteries. But, it’s easy to remember the novelty of someone named Jimmer. When his face popped on the screen, Fredette explained he always wanted to make the NBA. He always thought he would make the NBA.
He didn’t start the game, watching from the bench with his warmups off. Once on the floor, scoring was easy against D-League competition not interested in defense. The crowd reacted to dunks and anything he did. The first time he touched the ball, a small boy yelled, “Go, Jimmer!”
Later, a 3-pointer several feet from behind the line rimmed out. The crowd sighed. When he was fouled and scored with 2.5 second to play, an eight-person chant of “M-V-P!” began, then ended swiftly. The crowd was fewer than 1,000 by then.
Fredette, at least that day, would not let the reality of his situation seep into his public disposition. He was the first off the bench to greet the players on the floor during each timeout. He talked afterward about how thankful he was to be there. Fredette lauded the talent of the other all-stars, guys who couldn’t have ever imagined playing with when he shook the NBA commissioner’s hand on draft night.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Fredette said. “I’ve never been part of all-star weekend before. Just to be here and see that atmosphere is an honor.”
Last summer, he signed with the San Antonio Spurs. He was waived on Oct. 21, 2015 after two preseason games. Another brief chance arrived on Nov. 10, 2015, when he was signed by the New Orleans Pelicans, who were granted a hardship waiver because of injuries. Nine days later, he was released. Once Saturday’s conversation moved beyond his accomplishments of the day, questions about his past and future began.
Is he hopeful of a return to the NBA?
“You’re always hopeful,” Fredette said. “Everybody in this league, that’s what their dream is. They want to get back or into the NBA or further their career, wherever it is. That’s what this league is for. It’s the developmental league. I’m no different.”
Except, he is. Only one other player at the game was selected in the first round. Elliot Williams was drafted 22nd overall in 2010. Eight of Fredette’s 15 Eastern Conference teammates were undrafted. Eight others on the Western Conference side were undrafted.
Fredette’s shooting has never been in doubt. It helped him score a school-record 52 points in a game at BYU, where he had six 40-point games during his career. When he arrived in Sacramento after the draft, “Jimmermania” followed. His jersey sold out. Though, his flaws against NBA competition were quickly exposed. Fredette’s contract was bought out by the Kings less than three years later.
He thinks NBA teams want to see him adroitly pass, drive into the lane for pullups and floaters, and work well in a defensive scheme.
“Obviously, I would love to be back in the NBA,” Fredette said. “Everybody wants to be in the NBA. That’s the whole goal. I’m no different in that. I’m going to work every day to go and try to make it back into the NBA. That’s everybody’s goal. Go out there and play every single time. Don’t let your mental state get down. You’ve just got to keep pushing and know you can play.”
Fredette was not able to stay to watch the NBA All-Star Game or even the Saturday night events. His media duties done, a shower and stretching preceded a plane ride. The Westchester Knicks were practicing on Sunday.