Jimmer talks Jimmermania, responding to pressure and playing ball in three continents

Photo: EuroLeague.net

When Panathinaikos OPAP announced the signing of former NCAA scoring ace Jimmer Fredette, only an underwhelming minority of basketball fans didn’t know what to expect. Known for his outstanding shooting abilities and range, Fredette quickly made a name for himself. In fact, the name itself prevailed completely over his surname, partly because the so-called “Jimmermania” had taken U.S. hoops by storm in the early ’10s. Fredette was voted the 2011 National Player of the Year in college basketball after ranking as the leading scorer in the NCAA during his senior season for the Brigham Young University Cougars.

That has probably been the exceptional part of his career so far, the one that provoked President Barack Obama’s and Kevin Durant’s praise. The former called Fredette the “best scorer obviously in the country”, while the latter went even further, maintaining that he was “the best scorer in the world”. Those statements were hardly verified when Jimmer, selected with the 10th pick in the 2011 NBA draft, took the big stage. His underwhelming physical presence did not help him much nor did his defensive skills. Thus, he saw little playing time across four teams over five NBA seasons. He spent two and a half seasons at Sacramento, where he had probably his best games, but his presence with the Bulls, the Hornets, the Knicks and the Suns did not him or the franchises.

After the NBA, Fredette moved to China, where he took the nickname “The Lonely Master” and hoops in Asia soon caught fire. In the Chinese League, he was both the leading scorer and the MVP in 2017, averaging 37.6 points per game. Euroleague giants Panathinaikos OPAP had already started to knock on his door, but to no avail. However, in the summer of 2019 Jimmer relented to the Green’s call, bringing his talents, his nicknames, his fame and of course his family, to Athens, Greece.

It goes without saying that the Euroleague is a competition as demanding as any in the world, but overall the experienced guard who recenty turned 31, has been putting up good numbers in the 2019-2020 season: 13.6 points on 42.7% three-pointers and 96.5% free throws (best percentage by any PAO player in many years). His team is conversely presenting a mediocre 14-12 tally, so far good enough for a play-off berth, but certainly well below their fanbase expectations.

Jimmer Fredette talked to TalkBasket.net about his rookie Euroleague campaign, the way he deals with pressure and the diverse basketball worlds he has met in his professional journey.

Q: Jimmer, have you figured out what it takes to be successful in Europe and what distinguishes a good from a top player over here?

A: I think like I’ve played pretty well this season. With the time and the opportunity given, I feel like I’ve done some really good things. I continue to get better each and every day. Obviously, it’s a different game than where I’ve come from, whether it be the NBA or China. In the NBA, the spacing is a lot different, the three-point line is farther, the defensive three seconds … all these things. It’s much more free flowing, one-on-one basketball, very three-heavy oriented at this point, analytics-driven. It’s very different than European basketball, which is a little bit more tactical. In Europe, you can pack the paint and you’ve got to get ball movement. Then, Chinese basketball is different than that: the ball is in one guy’s hands a lot all the time, meaning they make decisions. They play super physical over there and really beat you up. So, they’re all different kinds of basketball, but at the same time they’re all fun.

Q: Which were the factors that facilitated your adjustment?

A: I’ve had some good people that helped me acclimate to the Europen game quicker. Nick (Calathes) and Tyrese (Rice) taught me a lot during this time. I can keep getting better every day as a player, but so far it’s been good.

Q: Do you think that a third NBA opportunity could be in the cards for you in the near future?

A: I don’t know. I have no idea at this point. I try not to be worried too much about it. Just playing this game and getting prepared for what’s going on this season.

Q: Did you enjoy playing for the Sacramento Kings?

A: Yeah, for sure. I had a great experience playing for the Kings and for all the teams I’ve played for. I’ve played for several different teams in the NBA and I obviously had some great times and also some bad times throughout my career, but I wouldn’t change anything. It’s been a really great ride.

Q: Panathinaikos had tried to sign you in the past. Why didn’t the case go any further?

A: Yes, they were trying to get me there for quite a while. It wasn’t anything that did not go well. I just felt like I had some other opportunities at that point. I was in China for three years. That worked really well for myself and my family and that’s what we decided to do at that time. It was the best situation for us. Then, this year, we felt like Panathinaikos was a good situation to be able to come in and try this out. We’re having a good time so far.

Q: Did you know you were one of PAO’s owner favourite players?

A: Haha, that’s good. No, I didn’t know that, but it’s great.

Q: How did you respond to the “Jimmermania” that surrounded you since High School?

A: I know, but I don’t worry about it too much. I don’t put too much expectation on it. Just go out there and have expectations for myself to play well and help the team win. If I’m doing that and I’m working hard every day, then that’s all I’m really worried about.

Q: This means that the pressure that Panathinaikos players usually deal with suits your mentality?

A: Like I said, it doesn’t bother me that much. Fans are always going to have expectations, wherever you play, individually and as a team. That’s nothing new as a basketball player. You’ve been going through that in your whole life. So you just have to block the outside noise out, in order to focus on your team, on what’s going on in the locker-room and on the practice court. The best teams are the ones that can do that. Then you can make something special happen. We got to continue to try get better.

Q: I have asked many players their opinion, but I’d like to have yours as well. Have you ever considered applying for a foreign passport?

A: No, I have not. I’m not saying I would never do that, but I haven’t thought about it.