Jimmer Fredette Brings the Swagger to 3X3 at the Olympics

Jimmer Fredette of the USA drives to the hoop during the mens pool play match between Austria and the USA at the FIBA 3x3 World Cup on June 2, 2023 in Vienna, Austria. Credit - Andrea Kareth—SEPA.Media—Getty Images

If you missed out on, or have since forgotten about, what was known as “Jimmermania,” or “Jim-Sanity”—that period of time in 2011 when Brigham Young University (BYU) guard Jimmer Fredette took over college basketball, much like Catilin Clark did this season—let’s revisit that era for a moment. Even in a pre-Instagram and pre-TikTok age, Fredette’s long-range shooting exploits lit up social media, especially on YouTube and Twitter, where none other than Kevin Durant, the best scorer in the world at that time, called Fredette “the best scorer in the world!!” 

In late January of that year, Fredette dropped 43 points on an undefeated San Diego State quad which featured Kawhi Leonard; after BYU’s nationally televised home victory over the Aztecs, Fredette had to retreat behind a Marriott Center scorer’s table to shield himself from the Provo, Utah, faithful who wanted to hoist their hero over their shoulders. One fan held up a sign—“Shoot it from here, Jimmer"—about 25 rows above the court, a nod to his Clark-like range. ESPN’s SportsCenter dedicated countless segments to Fredette, who won the National Player of the Year award that season. The Deseret News, based in Salt Lake City, even published “The Jimmer Glossary.”

v. Jimmer: to school, beat-down, thrash, dominate, as in one's opponent.

Jimmered verb 1: The act of being punked, embarrassed, shown up, humbled, shamed, owned, outclassed, humiliated, served, schooled, crushed, disgraced, and utterly disrespected on the basketball court. San Diego State got Jimmered when Fredette carried BYU with 43 in Wednesday's victory.

Clark’s exclusion this month from the USA women’s basketball team headed to the Paris Olympics set off a fiery debate that lasted for days. Given Clark’s power to draw audiences, said one side, leaving her off the roster was a missed opportunity to grow the women’s game. The other side argued that as Clark finds her way as a WNBA pro, giving a nod to more experienced players was the fair call.

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But Fredette, one of Clark’s precursors in the logo-three-pointer game—in a sense, he was Caitlin Clark before Caitlin Clark—will be in Paris. More than a dozen years after Jimmermania, and following an NBA career that fell well short of expectations—but a professional revival in China that cemented his contributions to basketball—Fredette, 35, will lead Team USA’s first men’s 3-on-3 team at the Games. He now has a chance to finish his singular basketball journey at the top of the podium, a gold medal draped over his neck.

“I’m all in,” says Fredette. “This is a unique opportunity. And I’m not one who is afraid to jump into something new.”

The 3-on-3 route to the Games—it’s actually officially called 3X3, and you pronounce the X—was something Fredette never could have imagined until recently. Like almost every youth basketball player in the United States, he grew up playing 3-on-3 in gyms and schoolyards; from his home base in Glens Falls, N.Y., about three hours north of New York City, he even entered a few 3X3 tournaments in places like Hartford, Conn.; Springfield, Mass.; and Boston. To hone his 5-on-5 skills, Fredette and his older brother TJ—who was also an aspiring rapper—would play pickup basketball with inmates at local penitentiaries. Fredette scored 2,404 points at Glens Falls High School and chose BYU for college (he’s a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

Stephen Curry had displayed his shooting brilliance during the 2008 NCAA tournament when he led Davidson to the Elite 8, and he returned to college for one more season. But Davidson didn’t receive the same sort of national exposure as BYU, and by 2011, Curry hadn’t yet established himself as a regular NBA MVP candidate. Fredette’s flurry of ridiculous range threes, regardless of the resistance provided by the defense, on the college level felt entirely novel.

And like Clark, he was appointment viewing.

Although scouts wondered if his height—he’s 6 ft. 2 in.—and lack of raw athleticism would hold him back, Fredette was still a lottery pick. The Milwaukee Bucks selected him with the 10th overall pick in that year’s draft and traded him to the Sacramento Kings. Sacramento, however, was a rough landing spot. The 2012 Kings were a young, inferior team who finished 22-44 in the lockout-shortened season: the five players who started the most games for Sacramento were all 25 and under. “We didn’t have a ton of leadership on that team,” says Fredette. “You need a couple of veterans who are like, ‘Hey, this is how it works. This is how you do things. If you want to be good, this is how you win.’ There was a lot of 'Hey, it's my turn,' then 'it's my turn,' then 'it's my turn.'‘ It’s not an easy way to play basketball.”

The Curry-led three-point revolution in the NBA hadn’t taken hold. So the Kings weren’t about to entrust their offense to an undersized rookie gunner. “I think I was a little ahead of my time,” says Fredette. Without a green light to shoot at will, his confidence suffered. In a few games, he didn’t play a single minute. “I never had a situation where I never played in the game,” says Fredette. “It just messes with your head. You're like, ‘Man, am I good enough? Should I be here? What do I need to do to get on the floor?’ Once you get on the floor, it's like, ‘I don't want to make a mistake.’ And that's not a way to play.”

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As the reigning college player of the year who received outsize attention, he also had a target on his back—much like Clark does now in the WNBA. “Some of the best defenders would come up and try to guard me right away, just to kind of prove a point,” says Fredette. Back in 2012, NBA teams still threw the ball down low, something they’re loath to do in the space-and-pace three-point world; Fredette was an easy mark. “Basically every single time I came into the game, they'd be like, ‘Alright, first play, we're gonna throw it in the post on him,’” says Fredette, laughing at the memory.

Fredette has spoken with Clark, who looked up to him when she was younger. What advice would he offer the young WNBA star? “She has to keep being who she is,” says Fredette. “It’s something that I didn’t do a great job of when I got to the NBA. What got me there was the swagger, the outside shooting from anywhere at any point, the irrational confidence to be able to go in there and kind of just do whatever. That's what made me great in college and what would have made me great in the NBA.” Fredette notes—and Clark’s statistics, and the Fever’s win totals bear out—that Clark is doing just that, improving her WNBA performance as the season progresses. “It’s only going to go up from here,” he says. Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson and Clark are leading the WNBA All-Star voting.

Fredette averaged 7.6 points and 18.6 minutes per game as a rookie in 2012. Those were both his NBA career highs. Sacramento waived him in 2014; he made a stop in Chicago, then spent the 2014-2015 season with the New Orleans Pelicans, appearing in 50 games. He spent most of the next year with the New York Knicks’ G League team, the Westchester Knicks, making just a pair of brief appearances with the big club.

He signed on with the Shanghai Sharks for the 2016-2017 season and immediately started selling out the team’s 5,000-seat arena. ESPN basketball analyst—and future senior advisor to USA Basketball’s 3X3 program—Fran Fraschilla sat with the team’s owner, Yao Ming, during one game in Shanghai that season. “Jimmer had a quiet 53 [points] that night,” Fraschilla says. Fredette achieved rock-star status in China, winning the 2017 Chinese Basketball Association international MVP award and averaging 34.2 points per game. He signed a deal to spend two more seasons in China, reportedly at $1.8 million per year and scored 75 points in a game in 2018. Fredette earned the nickname “Jimo Dashen,” which is Chinese for “The Lonely Master.”

He tried an NBA comeback, with the Phoenix Suns, in 2019, but it didn’t go well: he got limited playing time in just six games, and missed all 13 of his three-point attempts. He spent the pandemic-shortened 2019-2020 season in Greece, with top team Panathinaikos, then returned to Shanghai for the 2020-2021 season. With China still under strict pandemic restrictions, that was an isolating year for Fredette, who could not see his kids, who are now ages 7 and 5. (He now has a third child, who’s 2.)

“I played games and came back to the hotel,” says Fredette. “I was basically in a quarantine hotel for seven months.”

So Fredette was reluctant to return to China for the 2021-22 season. He took the year off but still stayed in shape, playing in The Basketball Tournament (TBT), a $1 million winner-take-all event broadcast each year on ESPN and its networks. Fraschilla, a TBT analyst for ESPN, was impressed with Fredette’s play. Given Fraschilla’s involvement with the U.S. 3X3 team, two summers ago he pitched Fredette on helping the men’s side qualify for the Games for the first time. (3X3 made its Olympic debut in Tokyo; the U.S. women won gold.) “I said, ‘If you do this, you’ll be the face of our Olympic program,’” says Fraschilla. For Fredette, a chance to play in the Olympics was too compelling to turn down.

In the fall of 2022 Fredette joined with 3X3 veterans Kareem Maddox, who played college ball at Princeton; Canyon Barry, from the College of Charleston and Florida—he’s the son of hoops Hall of Famer Rick Barry—and Dylan Travis, who won a Division 2 national championship at Florida Southern back in 2015. Though he did have to pick up some of the game’s nuances, such as the physicality of 3X3—the refs let a lot more rough stuff go—and the different spacing angles on offense, he fit right in. “I give him credit for coming in and saying, ‘You know, I have a lot to learn,’” says Maddox. “In my experience, we've had a harder time integrating much more inferior basketball players than Jimmer. He’s made it so easy.”

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Fredette’s shooting is even more valuable in 3X3, where shots within the arc are worth one point and those beyond are worth two. (Games last 10 minutes: whoever gets to 21 points first, or leads after the 10 minutes are up, wins the game.) So a long shot is worth double a regular basket, whereas in 5-on-5, threes are worth 1.5 times a two-point layup.

But you can’t just throw four NBA players together and send them on a summer trip to Paris – 3X3 players are specialists. They have to participate in international tournaments and acquire ranking points in order to be eligible for the Olympics. So Fredette’s had to roll with crazy travel itineraries—since October 2022 he has played in 3X3 tournaments in 15 countries outside the United States. During one stretch last summer, the team zigzagged from France to Macau to Kosovo and back to France, before bouncing back to Asia (Mongolia), then back to Europe (Switzerland, then Hungary) over a nine-week span. He wasn’t globetrotting with NBA-style amenities. “You’re not staying in five-star hotels,” says Maddox. “A lot of times you’re roughing it.”

In Kosovo, the squad got a 40-minute ride from some guy to a national park and found cracked courts, in the middle of the woods, on which to practice. They offered him $100 bucks to stick around and drive them back after the workout: the players had no idea where they were, cell service was nonexistent, and Uber was not an option. “3X3, that’s what it is,” says Fredette. “You find what you can to prepare, then go play.”

The U.S. men’s 3X3 team opens pool play on July 30, vs. Serbia, at Place de la Concorde, the largest public square in Paris, which is also hosting BMX freestyle, breaking, and skateboarding. Maddox is the veteran of the team: he played his first 3X3 event sanctioned by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), the sport’s world governing body, in 2015. “He’s seen every possible situation you can see on 3X3, and he’s an elite defensive player,” says Fredette. Barry is a slasher who can get to the foul line and make his underhand free throws, just like his dad. Travis, says Fredette, “is the heart of our team. He's the one that gets me hyped when he dives for a loose ball or gets a steal or blocks a shot and then yells at the crowd.”

Fredette’s role: put the ball in the basket. He promises to bring the irrational confidence of Jim-sanity to the Games. “That’s what my teammates expect,” he says. “They know if I'm scoring the ball, it opens up a lot of things for them as well. They get a lot of easy shots, a lot of easy layups from it. So it's about being aggressive. You'll definitely see the swagger. You'll see everything that you're hoping to see.”

Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com.