Saturday, April 16, 2011

Why Jimmer Fredette's NBA Prospects Might Be Better Than People Think

By Charlie Scaturro

Photo Credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America
At this point, if you're not sick of hearing about Jimmer Fredette's NBA potential, you're either a masochist or your name is Chad Ford.  The debate about whether or not the sweet shooting 6'2'' guard from upstate New York has what it takes to make it in the NBA has reached Tebowian heights. 

Everyone who knows anything about college hoops or the NBA has already chimed in with their opinion about how Fredette's game will translate to the NBA and it's been going on for months now.

But something he showed during BYU's overtime loss against Florida made me think that his chances in the NBA might be a lot better than most people are giving him credit for, and it has nothing to do with anything he did on the court.

Late March is the most emotional time of the year for college basketball players, especially seniors, some of whom get a little choked up when the reality sets in that they're playing in their final collegiate game.  The last few seconds of their career are slowly winding off the clock, their team is hopelessly behind, and they're powerless to do anything about it.

Every player deals with this situation differently but there's really no right or wrong way to react when something you love and have dedicated the last four years of your life to is about to end.  Some guys shed a few tears, some have their eyes well up before they hold it together, and others take it relatively well considering the circumstances. 
As much as the average American male would never like to admit to crying under almost any circumstance, it happens, and there's no shame in having your emotions get the best of you.  I even remember a few friends crying when they were about to graduate from college and all they ever did during their four years of school was abuse alcohol and try to weasel their way out of going to class.

Considering the circumstances, it seems pretty understandable that some of these student athletes get choked up.  After all, they're dealing with something as emotional as the NCAA Tournament and the end of their college basketball careers at the same time.  

It's hard to forget Adam Morrison's epic meltdown after his Gonzaga team blew a big second half lead to UCLA back in 2006, but Morrison's reaction was more than your average teary-eyed tournament farewell.  Morrison was a junior so he could have come back to the Zags, and the images of him starting to cry before the game even ended and then uncontrollably sobbing on the court after the final buzzer sounded, will be burned in America's consciousness for years to come.     

Far be it from me to criticize Morrison for his reaction during what was an extremely emotional and gut wrenching tournament loss, but you can't help thinking that a player who lets his emotions get the best of him to such a degree isn't the most mentally tough or resilient guy in the world.  (Morrison's less than stellar NBA career certainly wasn't aided by his mindset)     

Photo Credit: Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images North Americ
It's more than a little ironic that Morrison and Fredette, two guys who have often been compared to each other in terms of NBA potential (I'm not really sure why because they're different players), reacted in exact opposite ways after their respective teams were ousted from the NCAA Tournament.     

In what was one of the most important games of his life, Fredette didn't play his best.  He scored 32 points but it took him 29 shots to do so and he went just three of 15 from behind the arc.

If Fredette would have broken down a little bit after a tough final game at BYU, I don't think too many people would have faulted him for letting his emotions get the best of him, as long as he didn't pull a Morrison.

But that's not what happened at all.

Dave Rose pulled Fredette from the game with about 30 seconds left to allow fans to give him one more ovation because the game had been put out of reach by the Gators.  Fredette remained calm and took a seat on the bench.  After the final buzzer sounded, he congratulated the Florida players, quietly left the court and proceeded to the Cougars post-game press conference in which he answered questions in a composed manner.

Fredette's actions immediately after the Florida game were that of a guy who is committed to getting to the next level, not just in what he said but also in how he acted.  He displayed great professionalism and mental toughness in the way he handled this situation and if he didn't sound like a guy who was focused on getting to the NBA in that press conference, I don't know who is.     

It's absolutely true that everything Fredette does is over analyzed and blown out of proportion, especially when it comes to his prospects in the NBA and I'm not suggesting by any stretch of the imagination that he's going to have a successful pro career because of the way he handled losing to Florida a couple of weeks ago.  Nor am I a Jimmer fanatic who thinks he's going to drop 20 a game in the pros.  But whether or not he has a solid NBA career will be determined by a lot more than just his athleticism and skill.

Fredette's chances of becoming a serviceable NBA player will also be affected by; luck, hard work, his mindset/mental toughness, and how well he fits on whatever team drafts him.  Obviously, some of these factors are out of his control but what seems certain at this point is that he's thinking about the right things and is ready to do whatever he needs to in order to have the best possible chance to make a difference in the NBA.  

It seems that a lot of people who have been giving their opinion about Jimmer are forgetting that whether a guy makes it in the NBA is about more than just his skill, how big he is, or whether he looks the part.  We've seen countless GM's and NBA organizations get burned by that can't miss player who simply doesn't have the right attitude, work ethic, or mindset to make it in the NBA, regardless of his physical gifts. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America
Fredette might not have the athleticism, defensive ability, or typical size that NBA GM's covet, but if I was running an NBA franchise I would have been impressed with the things he did and said after what had to be one of the toughest losses in his basketball career. 

The bottom line is that most NBA players don't enter the league and instantly dominate. 

In fact, most players toil in anonymity for their first few seasons before they get a chance to really make a difference on an NBA team.  If they get one at all. 

Fredette was certainly one of the most dominant players in the college game this season but the fate which awaits him in the NBA will undoubtedly test his ability to overcome adversity while he waits for his chance to make a difference.

At this point, it's tough to say if Fredette will ever be an impact player in the NBA, but what goes without saying is that a players character and mental toughness make a difference.  It might rank somewhere in between skill level and how good a guy looks in an NBA uniform, but it definitely factors into success.

After that press conference against Florida, it's pretty clear that Fredette is a man who is ready to go pro and give the NBA his best shot.  And while his success is far from a sure thing, he won't fail because his effort, mindset, or focus are in the wrong place.

Which may count a little more than most people think.  

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