Ten years ago this month, Jimmer Fredette was preparing for his senior season at BYU.
It turned out to be one of the most memorable and successful basketball campaigns in school history. The Cougars won 32 games and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 30 years. Fredette earned consensus National Player of the Year honors after Jimmermania swept the nation during that 2011 season.
Right now, the 31-year-old sharpshooting guard is back in China, playing for the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association, where he played from 2016-19. Fredette, who is known as “The Lonely Master” in China, spent a short stint with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns before playing for Panathinaikos in Greece of the EuroLeague last year. Panathinaikos was voted the champion of the Greek League standings after the coronavirus pandemic suspended play.
The CBA season tipped off a couple weeks ago. It is currently playing games in a bubble, without fans.
Meanwhile, Fredette’s wife, Whitney, a former Cougar cheerleader, is at the couple’s home in Colorado with their daughter, Wesley (3½), and son, Taft (1½).
“It would have been difficult to get them over here to China. They would have had to quarantine for 14 days, and that wouldn’t have been fun to do with two kids in a hotel room,” said Fredette. “We’re seeing if they lift quarantine and they’ll definitely come over. If they don’t, we’re trying to figure it out as we go.”
The league’s 20 teams are inside the bubble but it’s uncertain how many games will be played there before trying to return to a state of normalcy. The CBA bubble is a four-hour bus ride from Shanghai, Fredette said.
With the 14-hour time difference between China and Colorado, Fredette talks to his family in the mornings or at night.
“In the middle of the day here,” he said, “they’re all sleeping.”
The Deseret News recently caught up with Fredette via a cellphone interview and he answered questions on a variety of topics, including why he returned to China; the chances of returning to the NBA; his future in basketball; why he started filming trick shot videos that have gone viral; the virtual missionary firesides he’s been doing; and how fatherhood has impacted him.
Deseret News: What went into your decision to return to China?
Jimmer Fredette: After the EuroLeague season got cut short because of the virus in March, we were in a waiting game to see if I was going to go back and play and finish out the season at some point. We had to wait until the end of May to figure that out. Then once we figured out that they were not going to play anymore, we had to decide what we wanted to do. I had another year option to go back to Greece if I wanted to or opt out to play somewhere else. The Sharks came calling again and had a great opportunity for me to come back and play. We decided it was the best option for me and my family at this point. We thought about it hard. We had a great experience in Greece. We loved living there. We loved the food, the people, my teammates and everything. But ultimately, it made more sense for us to come back over here to China.
DN: Did you enjoy playing for coach Rick Pitino when you were in Greece?
JF: It was fun. He’s definitely a demanding guy. He’s been a college coach for most of his career. He was in the NBA for a little bit. But he had never coached in the EuroLeague and it’s a very different type of game. He did a great job. He knows the game of basketball. He’s a great motivator and a great speaker. I never thought I would be going to Greece to play for Rick Pitino and it ended up happening.
DN: What was it like arriving in China this time?
JF: Usually, when I arrive at the airport, there are a ton of fans waiting, hanging out, wanting to get pictures and autographs. But it’s not that way now when you land, especially internationally, in China. There’s no one there. There’s just the people in the full-body suits that come pick you up and take you through the maze of getting through customs, taking tests, getting information. It’s not easy to get into China, for sure. The Sharks put me in a great position. As soon as you get out of the airport, you go straight to a hotel and you sit there for 14 days in quarantine. After that, you’re able to go free after they test you a couple of times again.
DN: During the pandemic you have been producing trick-shot videos that have gone viral. What inspired that?
JF: I was shooting on the Little Tikes basketball hoop that we have downstairs with Wesley and Taft. It was at the beginning of the pandemic. Whitney said, ‘Why don’t we post a video of you shooting some kind of trick shot? What else do we have to do?’ We started thinking of ideas. We did it one week and we got a really good response. People thought it was really fun. So we decided to do it again. It was on a Tuesday so we called it ‘Trick Shot Tuesday.’ We decided to do it every week. People loved it. Once I’m done playing, that’s what I’ll be known for more than anything else — people are always talking to me about ‘Trick Shot Tuesday’ now. I haven’t been able to do it recently because we’re in the bubble at the hotel and we don’t have time to do any trick shots anywhere. Once I get out, I’ll figure it out and hopefully I’ll be able to continue them from China. It’s been a lot of fun and my kids loved it, too.
DN: Which of your trick shots was your favorite?
JF: The last one that I did, I tried to go out with a grand finale before I left for China. I threw it over the house. That was probably my favorite one. I got a lot of requests for that and I was like, ‘How am I going to do this?’ I didn’t know if I was going to be able to even throw it over the house. But we found a side of the house where I could do it and was able to make it. That took me the longest. There were a couple of others that took me longer. That was only four or five tries, actually. Some of them take longer than that for sure. They’re not easy shots. Some take me 15 or 20 minutes to get the perfect shot right. You have to feel the range for it and kind of figure out how to shoot it and pick a spot.
DN: Speaking of trick shots, you had a 15-foot finger roll from behind the backboard in a game the other night. How did that play come about?
JF: It was out of necessity. There was one second on the shot clock left. I had to figure out a way to shoot it and I was stuck in the corner because I got the ball with two seconds left. The guy was right there on me. I kind of pivoted until I could get it under his arm and I threw it up underhand just to try to hit the rim to give us a chance for an offensive rebound. It ended up going in. I’ve made a few shots like that in my life, finger rolls from deep ranges. I’ve done it before. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to make it. I was just trying to get it close to the rim.
In today's episode of "How did Jimmer make that?": a 15-foot finger roll from behind the backboard to beat the shot clock pic.twitter.com/AfJYdGkzJ3— Jimmer Fredette News (@TheJimmerWatch) October 22, 2020
DN: During the pandemic you’ve done virtual firesides with missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What has that experience been like for you?
JF: That’s been a great opportunity for me to be able to talk with people all over the world. I’ve talked with missionaries and people in Italy, Germany, and all over the U.S. I’ve been able to get on a lot of different Zoom calls with members all over the world. I know missionaries and families all over the world have had different experiences with the pandemic. Some have had to quarantine in their small apartments for months on end, not being able to do anything, especially some of the missionaries. I try to bring them a little bit of joy, something to do for a couple of hours to ask questions and give them some hope and make sure that they know that they’re loved and appreciated out there. That has been a really great experience, not only for the people, but for me.
DN: It’s been 10 years since your senior year at BYU started. What do you remember most about that amazing season?
JF: It definitely doesn’t feel like 10 years. There are parts that have gone by slowly but the majority has gone by extremely fast. To be here 10 years later, makes you feel older than you think you are. Looking back on those years, those were some of the best years of my life, playing basketball and having a great time in college. The thing that stands out to me is just the people that I was able to have relationships with at BYU. They’re amazing people and it was a special year. There was a bond they had that year that I feel like was unlike any that I’ve had because we were playing so great. Everyone in Utah was in on it and everyone in the nation was in on it. It brought us together as a group. I stay in contact with all those guys and I have great relationships with them. Those are friendships that I’ll be able to have for the rest of my life.
DN: How is Jimmerosity, your charity organization, doing?
JF: It’s been going great. It continues to grow. We have about 20,000 students in our programs across Utah County and we’re hoping to grow and expand. Anybody that wants to help, please contact us at Jimmerosity.org. You can donate money or your time or your resources to help these kids and help stop bullying at schools and promote kindness throughout all of Utah. We want to impact as many lives as we can. We hope to be able to keep that going and help as many kids as we can. That’s what it’s all about for me.
DN: Do you see yourself back in the NBA at some point?
JF: I definitely know that I can play in the NBA. I don’t know if I’m going to get another opportunity or not. Who knows? But that’s not really my focus. If a team comes calling and they want to give me a great opportunity to actually play and I know that I’ll be playing, that’s great. If not, I’m not going to go back there. I make way more money, honestly, in China than I would in the NBA. The only thing that would be nice is my family would be with me if I was in an NBA city. That would be awesome. That’s not my focus at this point. I’m completely happy with where I’m at right now. I’ve been in the NBA. I’ve done that. I don’t want to just go back to the NBA to sit on the bench. I would go back if I was able to make an impact and play a lot on a team. If that doesn’t come, then I’m definitely planning on staying here and making an impact.
DN: How much longer do you want to play professionally?
JF: I’ve definitely given it a lot of thought but at this point I don’t know. I’m definitely not one of those guys that’s going to play until the wheels fall off. I want to go out on my terms, feeling good. When you play overseas, it takes a toll on your body but it also takes a toll on your mind and your family. It’s not something I want to continue to do for another 10 years. It’s just not worth it. We’ll see how long that would be. But I’ve definitely thought about it with my wife and family. I’m here for this year and we’ll go from there.
DN: What do you want to do when your playing days are over?
JF: I’m already involved in entrepreneurial things and real estate businesses. I’m fortunate to have done well off the court as well so far. I’m figuring out businesses that I want to start or buy or start a partnership with someone. I’m definitely looking into that. I’ve already started doing that because I know once I’m done with basketball, those are the things I’ll look into. It will be a fun experience to dive into that fully.
DN: Do you have any interest in staying in basketball in some capacity when your career is over?
JF: When I’m done, I’m done. There will be no coaching for me. I won’t be a GM or anything like that. The most I would do is coach a high school team because I would enjoy it. But definitely not college, definitely not professional, definitely not front effort. It’s a lot of time. I’ve been away from my family enough. I want to be home with them. I want to be with them and have a flexible schedule to do what I want to do when I want to do it. I’d love to coach my kids and be there for all their games.
DN: What has fatherhood been like for you?
JF: It definitely keeps me busy. I love it. That’s my favorite thing in life — to be a dad. I love playing with the kids and hanging out with them. We had a long stretch of time where we were together for about eight months straight, which almost never happens during a basketball season. I love my kids and my wife and they’re the most important things to me.
DN: How’s Whitney doing with the kids while you’re away?
JF: She’s doing great. She’s a rock star. She’s the strong one in the family, for sure. She’s been completely supportive throughout my whole career, wherever I’ve been. I try to be as supportive as I can back to her and give her as much help as I possibly can. The biggest thing for us is making sure we continue to communicate well. We talk about how things are going to make us feel like we’re with each other and part of each other’s lives. There are times when you feel like you’re on a different planet over here in China. You can definitely feel distant from everything. We’ve been really good with that. She’s absolutely amazing and has done a spectacular job. I’m fortunate to have her on my team.