Jimmermania alive and well in Utah

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(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Phoenix Suns guard Jimmer Fredette (32) shoots as Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) looks on during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, March 25, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Former BYU basketball great and 2011 Consensus National Player of the Year Jimmer Fredette, the newest member of the Phoenix Suns, made the second stop on his NBA comeback tour in Utah March 25 as the Suns took on the Utah Jazz.

Despite graduating eight years ago and being seemingly exiled to the Chinese Basketball Association in 2016, Fredette has remained one of the most popular college basketball stars in recent memory. His 28 points per game in his senior season led the Cougars to their second ever Sweet 16, graduating as the school’s all-time leading scorer at the time.

As soon as Fredette checked in for the Suns in the second quarter, the capacity crowd of hometown fans — many of whom donned Jimmer’s Shanghai Sharks jersey or other BYU apparel — rose to their feet to give former No. 10 overall pick a standing ovation.

“I love it, man,” said Suns shooting guard Devin Booker following his own 59 point performance against Utah. “I think I was 14 years old during his tournament run at BYU, so I’m a big fan of his. Seeing him get the love he deserves in this state says a lot about the people around here.”

Every action from Fredette resulted in a rousing response from the crowd. The crowd members cheered whenever Fredette checked in. They cheered whenever he touched the ball. They booed the refs when he was called for a travel. They booed as he was subbed out after four minutes. They chanted “put in Jimmer” continuously throughout the night as the Jazz stomped the hapless Suns.

Unfortunately for those who made the trip and paid the hefty price to see “the lonely master” — Jazz tickets for the Suns and Jimmer were listed online as more expensive than tickets against the Lakers and LeBron James on Wednesday — Fredette had a shaky performance, scoring just six points in 15 minutes on 1-10 shooting. He failed to make a 3-pointer and turned the ball over twice and was called for traveling twice.

“There are always a lot of emotions in coming back to Utah,” Fredette said. “A lot of my shots were a bit too long but it felt great to be out there and play aggressive. I know that if I keep playing my game everything will work out.”

Despite his less-than-stellar showing, the crowd continued to cheer heavily for Fredette into the fourth quarter, with the roars of anticipation growing stronger after every attempted shot.

“He’s a professional,” Suns head coach Igor Kokoškov said. “He’s a part of our team and whatever the team needs he’s going to be ready and available to perform. He’s earned it … that respect back home for who he is as a player and as a person.”

When Fredette was fouled and made his first free throw, the crowd exploded to celebrate the former CBA Most Valuable Player’s first NBA point since March 1, 2016.

“I got to the foul line, made a nice runner and hit the free throw line again,” Fredette said. “It felt good to see the ball go in at times. There seemed to be a lid on the basket for me tonight, but that happens.”

Fredette admitted adjusting back to the North American game is a process that requires patience and practice.

“It’s a different game over in China, so I need to keep working on getting into a rhythm,” Fredette said. “I felt like I did that tonight, and if I can keep doing that I can progress and get better. The NBA is much faster. Guys are much longer and more athletic. It’s the greatest league in the world with the best players, so obviously it’s very different (from China).”

Several Jazz players expressed disappointment in the constant cheering for Fredette, with forward Joe Ingles going as far to refuse to answer any Jimmer-related questions.

For a fanbase fresh off a national controversy regarding racist comments toward opponents, the immense love for a local hero in the midst of an improbable career comeback was a welcome change of pace for many fans and made for a uniquely exciting atmosphere.

Amid the media circus surrounding his return and the roller-coaster journey to get to this point, Fredette remains focused and grateful to receive another shot.

“Not a lot of guys get a second chance opportunity like this,” Fredette said. “Even if the ball didn’t go in I still feel like I was doing what I needed to do. I’m just going to play aggressive with no regrets, which I felt like I was doing tonight.”

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