OKLAHOMA CITY — When his older brother T.J. approached him about going to an upstate New York prison facility for a few rounds of pickup basketball, BYU guard Jimmer Fredette thought he was kidding.
"At first, I didn't believe him, of course," Fredette said Friday. "I was like, 'What are you talking about?' I thought he was just playing another joke on me like he always does."
Turns out T.J., who is seven years older, wasn't kidding. After years of putting his little brother through homemade drills he invented to develop Fredette's game, T.J. was proposing something even more unusual for Fredette, 21: honing his skills at a couple of New York prisons before he left for college — Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock and Mount McGregor Prison in Saratoga.
"We have a next-door neighbor who knew the guy that ran the recreational part in both facilities, and my brother and I, some of my friends and my father would go and we'd play in these prisons every once in awhile," Fredette said. "We would play against the inmates, and inmates would all be on the sides. They had bleachers, and actually they are decent courts. They're big courts for some reason, and it was a lot of fun playing in there. It made you immensely tough just playing in front of inmates like that, and the things that they would say to you and everything. But it was a lot of fun, a good experience for us. They were very physical, for sure."
So it's no surprise that playing on the biggest stage in college basketball is no daunting task for Fredette — whose given birth name is James but who was given the nickname by his mother to distinguish him from other Jameses and Jims in the family and has never been called anything else. The player Florida coach Billy Donovan called "one of the best-kept secrets in college basketball" may have begun this journey on some isolated prison pickup courts, but he has finally moved into the national spotlight.
The Mountain West's leading scorer (22.1 ppg), Fredette — who lists Denzel Washington as his favorite actor and John Stockton as his favorite player — scored a game-high 37 in a double-overtime first-round win against Florida on Thursday. His BYU Cougars (30-5) face Kansas State (27-7) tonight in the West Region second round. And Fredette is a major concern for the Wildcats.
"He scores the ball in a variety of ways," Kansas State junior guard Jacob Pullen said. "He does a great job of reading the defense. So we've just got to keep him uncomfortable, try to do him like we did other good scorers, throw different looks at them. … We've got to keep them guessing at what we're going to do and hope he misses some shots."
He doesn't miss many. Fredette shoots 48 percent from the field, 44 percent from 3-point range and 89 percent from the free-throw line. Coincidentally, Kansas State coach Frank Martin said the 6-foot-2 junior reminds him of Donovan when he was a college player.
"Very similar, unbelievable ability to utilize that shot through his foot-fakes and shot-fakes to create angles, to get other shots and get to the foul line," Martin said. "Then when you put him on the line, he's not going to miss. It's not going to happen."
A win tonight would send the Cougars to Salt Lake City, about 45 miles from their campus, for the Sweet 16, something Fredette is hoping to help make a reality.
"It would be great for us to be able to go back to Salt Lake and play in front of a home crowd," he said. "That would be a great thing for our program and our fans."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.