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Up Close with Jimmer Fredette

True Blue
Fredette took his place on the BYU team as #32. His freshman year, he was a second-string player but played in every game, becoming the team’s fifth-leading scorer. The next year he started in 32 of 33games and earned first-team all-conference honors—BYU’s first point guard to do so since 1990. It was clear his star was rising quickly, but at home, TJ was suffering from devastating neurological problems, most likely caused by the anesthesia used during a surgery for his torn left ACL.

“It left me with minor brain damage—constant dizziness, migraines, my blood pressure would drop. I was almost too weak to stand,” TJ recalls. “It was a time when I was struggling so much. I had nothing going for me.”

Jimmer was largely unaware of TJ’s condition because “we wanted him to be able to focus,” TJ explains. Little did Jimmer realize that the only thing that brought TJ joy was watching his younger brother excel on the court. “He was everything to me,” says TJ. “To have him doing what he was doing, that was the only thing that pulled me out of my depression. It gave me enough hope and pleasure to make it through.”

During his junior year, Fredette continued to make his brother proud, breaking several records, including the Mountain West Conference (MWC) tournament and tournament single-game scoring records, as well as the record for MWC tournament record for most free throws scored in a single game. He went on to help BYU reach the second round of the NCAA tournament—something that hadn’t been accomplished in 17 years. By the end of the season, Fredette had caught the attention of NBA recruiters, and he seriously considered forgoing his senior year to enter the 2010 NBA Draft. Ultimately, however, he chose to stay at BYU for another season. It was a decision he wouldn’t regret. 

Jimmermania
During the 2010–2011 NCAA basketball season, Fredette became a living legend.

“I had three games in a row—against University of Utah, Colorado State, and San Diego State—where I scored over 40 points at each. That’s when everything exploded,” he recalls. “Like on ESPN, you’d see an NBA player like Ray Allen, the best three-point shooter of all time. He’d make a shot from long range and the sportscaster would say, ‘That was from Jimmer range.’ It was crazy.”

But Fredette admits he was unprepared for the sudden fame.

“During my junior year, some people knew who I was, and I’d be asked for an autograph here or there,” he says. But everything changed that last year, after the victory over archrival University of Utah, when he attended a Utah Jazz game with his then-girlfriend (now fiancée), Whitney Wonnacott.

“People began passing things down the row for me to sign. Then more people noticed I was there and it started getting really bad,” he recalls. “Then they announced my name on the megatron and said that the lead scorer of the NCAA was here. Suddenly, the NBA players and all the people in the stands were clapping for me. I didn’t know they were going to do that.” It took four security guards to escort the couple to their car amid the mobs of people clamoring for a glimpse of Fredette. 

“From that point on, I’ve had to plan for pictures and autographs,” he says. “One day it was fine and the next day it wasn’t.”

According to Fredette, the hardest part about the fame is trying to do “regular things” like going to the movies or dining at restaurants. “People are going to see me. It’s hard because I don’t want to worry about that and just relax with family and friends,” he says. “Now we have to call ahead and get a private room. We order takeout a lot. It’s weird.”

Wonnacott adds, “Just going out to dinner, I will be completely finished with my meal and he won’t have even started because he is taking pictures and signing autographs, but you get used to it. I try to bring friends so I will have someone to talk to,” she jokes.

Despite the inconveniences, Fredette is grateful for the fans and considers his fame a privilege.

“I reached my goal, and I can be a good role model for kids. I take that very seriously,” he says. “I try to be a good person and make sure they can have someone to look up to who did it the right way. But also, I’m from a small town, not super athletic—just a normal guy who made his dream come true. Hopefully kids will take that to heart and try to make their dreams come true, too.”

To read the rest of this article, including Jimmer's thoughts on his new NBA career and future marriage, pick up a January/February 2012 copy of LDS Living! Click here to purchase.

(Check out photo galleries of Jimmer here and here.)
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