On Friday night, the Utah Jazz will host the Sacramento Kings in the first of two games in a home-and-home series. This series of games with the Kings brings not only a tough match-up on the court for the struggling Jazz, but it also brings a basketball rockstar back to his old stomping grounds for the first time this season.
Yes, the man, the myth, the legend of Jimmer Fredette is back in Utah, and it’s sure to be a fun time at the Energy Solutions Arena whenever he checks into the game for the first time. Last season when he came back to Utah for the first time on January 28th, he was met by a chorus of both boos and cheers, as the crowd was split down the half between those who loved him at BYU, and those who were there to cheer on the home team Jazz. The division of the crowd, and it’s overall intensity had it’s effects on Fredette and he was rendered to shooting only 5-13 shooting, and airballed a potential game winning three. His first return was largely held as a disappointment by the Utah faithful who remember his better days. And it’s a sure bet that on Friday fans will be clamoring for Jimmer to be the Jimmer they know and love once more.
To fully understand the expectations that the fans have for Fredette, we have to look back a couple years and realize the effect that he had on them. You see, during Jimmer’s final season at BYU, I was in high school in Utah. As a high school student, I never had much to do since my school schedule wasn’t exactly the most rigorous in the world, so I spent a lot of my time watching and studying sports. In my school there were a fair amount of kids like me, but in general the interest in sports in my high school wasn’t at a high level. That all changed during the 2010-2011 college basketball season.
That season was when Jimmer-mania hit it’s peak. He was fresh off of a great year in 2009-2010, and with a magnificent performance in a thrilling 2 OT win against the Florida Gators in the first round of the NCAA Tournament he had introduced himself to the nation. BYU was now officially on the college basketball radar for the 2011 season and Jimmer was the one who was going to make or break their year.
And boy, oh boy did he make their year. Fredette dazzled not only the local Utah audience, but he had the whole nation in a chokehold. On his way to becoming a consensus All-American, leading the nation in scoring with 28.9 ppg, and putting BYU on his back to the Sweet 16, he took the college basketball scene by storm. He crossed over opponents with great quickness, and put his scoring ability on in magnificent displays as he burst out in bunches seemingly whenever he felt like it. Whenever you look back at him on highlight tapes, it looks like whenever he handled the ball at the top of the key, he could go take one or two dribbles to create momentum, then stop on a dime. And as he stopped, he transferred all of that momentum into his jump, and then rose up with some crazy sort of explosion in his jump and knock down a jumper from anywhere across the half-court line. And he fed off the crowd like nothing else. Shot after shot, the crowd would cheer louder and louder, and he would get stronger and stronger as the game went on.
What was most amazing to me about Jimmer-mania was how he brought the whole state of Utah together. I imagine that the rest of the country was in love with him also, but there’s no way they could match Jimmer’s ground zero in Utah. I remember kids in class that had never talked about basketball, and that I knew never cared about sports were enamored with him. He made everyone, no matter if you were a BYU fan or a University of Utah fan love him. In one game against the Utes, Jimmer dropped 47 in an absolute thumping. And because it was Jimmer, Utah fans weren’t even mad, in fact they were so amazed that they and they gave Fredette a standing ovation. I myself never had an affiliation with either school, and I never wanted to, but every time I would see Jimmer getting buckets during a game or during a highlight show I couldn’t do anything but smile a bit. He was that good, and everyone in Utah, which often gets overlooked in the sports world could finally unite around one singular, powerful, scoring force.
He used to own everyone’s hearts and imaginations, and judging by how many fans from Utah still cheer for him, it’s safe to say a lot of people still own stock in Jimmer. Make no mistake, even through his professional struggles, every time he returns to the Beehive State the spotlight will be on Jimmer. It will be there for what he was in college, and for what so many thought he could be when he came into the NBA. But for now, we wait until Friday to see if he can teach us how to Jimmer once again.