WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- It was the last NBA Development League game Jimmer Fredette was scheduled to play before he returned to the NBA for the first time since he was waived by the New Orleans Pelicans in late November.
Excitement should've been the only buzzword on Sunday. But the fanciful idea that a 10-day contract with the New York Knicks might be enough time for Jimmermania to bloom again, with the same team where Linsanity took off once upon a time, was tempered greatly in the run-up to Fredette's debut with the Knicks on Monday.
For starters, there was the 2-for-17 shooting clunker that Fredette hung up Sunday in his goodbye game for the Westchester Knicks. Forty-eight hours before that, there were hints that the reception Fredette would be walking into 30 miles down the road at Madison Square Garden would hardly be perfumed with over-the-top praise.
Knicks interim head coach Kurt Rambis seemed dismissive when asked Friday and Monday about Fredette's promotion, giving a stinging critique each time about why the guard's skills haven't translated well to the bigger, faster NBA. Rambis stressed that he didn't even know when or if he might work Fredette into a game. Fredette played 1:49 and made the only shot he took, a 3-pointer, in the Knicks' 122-95 thumping by the Toronto Raptors on Monday night.
On Saturday, Knicks star Carmelo Anthony -- no fan of the Linsanity that grew with Jeremy Lin, who exploded onto the scene with the Knicks in January 2012 and later scored a huge contract with the Houston Rockets (one that Anthony called "ridiculous") -- didn't seem to even know Fredette's proper first name, even though the Knicks and their D-league team share the same suburban training facility.
"To be honest with you, I haven't seen Jimmy play in a long time," Anthony told the New York Post.
Jimmy? Who's Jimmy?
"I've had several people call me Jimmy, Jim, Jimster -- as long as there's a Jim in it, I usually respond to it," Fredette said with a smile on Sunday, trying his best to brush it off.
Momentum for the 26-year-old Fredette to get this chance with the Knicks, the fifth NBA team of his five-year career, began to grow after he woke up the echoes of his stellar BYU days with a 35-point performance to win the MVP award in the D-League All-Star Game earlier this month in Toronto. Asked Sunday if he went into the night determined to make a splash, Fredette said, "Well, yeah. Sure. In the D-League, every game is an audition. But you know that everyone in the NBA is going to be there watching on All-Star Weekend. And you want to show them what you can do."
It has been a long road for Fredette, who since his college days has occasionally been the focus of debate over whether his prodigious fame was due to his being a white star in an African-American-dominated sport, not just the quality of his game. Those were themes that continued when he was a 2011 lottery pick by the Milwaukee Bucks and then promptly traded to the Sacramento Kings, who were accused of looking for a name to juice the box office.
Since being cut after 2½ seasons in Sacramento, Fredette has bounced from Chicago to New Orleans to a failed preseason tryout with San Antonio. Shortly after being waived by the Spurs, he was selected by the Westchester Knicks with the No. 2 overall pick in the D-League draft in October. He re-signed with the Pelicans for a short stint in November before being waived and returning to Westchester. His only career starts in the NBA, all seven of them, came during a rookie year in which he averaged career highs in minutes (18.6) and scoring (7.6) with the Kings.
"All I want," Fredette said, "is a shot."
The Knicks do need backcourt help, and Fredette can shoot and score. He led Westchester with 21.8 points per game. But he didn't exclusively bring the ball upcourt at point guard for the D-League Knicks, and at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, he can be a liability when lining up against many of the NBA's longer, taller shooting guards.
Also clouding Fredette's prospects is the very pertinent question of whether he needs the ball in his hands (a lot) to ever really be "Jimmer" again -- or at least provide some reminder of the Jimmer who led Division I in scoring his senior season, carried BYU to a Sweet 16 run and won the 2011 John R. Wooden Award as the nation's top player.
Fredette isn't going to dominate the ball while playing alongside stars such as Anthony and rookie Kristaps Porzingis.
"Nobody on our team is going to play with the ball in their hands all the time -- not with those two guys here," Knicks D-League general manager Allan Houston said. "Jimmer isn't the biggest kid, and defense has been a criticism at times. He's worked really hard at it, and he'll never be a stopper, but can he hold his own? I think so. It's just that, I mean, I don't think a lot of people's athleticism and speed are going to improve after you're 26."
So what are the chances of Fredette making a Lin-like splash in these next 10 days with the team he grew up rooting for as a boy in upstate New York?
"Ahhh, I think Linsanity was a one-of-a-kind-type thing," Houston said.
But that doesn't stop the nostalgia and rooting for Fredette. Jimmermania still trails him like a kite tail. And there are good facets to that kind of fame. And bad.
Houston said he has seen other players pointedly "go at" Fredette "because of the off-court attention he's had and because they think they can take advantage of him on the court." He also said the Knicks felt they had to warn Fredette to be conscious of his body language during games because, as Houston puts it, "When you watch him, he looks like maybe he's not interested or engaged with his other teammates or other parts of the game [besides scoring]. But once you get to know him, that's not the case. He really does want to be an all-around player that does other things to help the team."
Westchester coach Mike Miller acknowledges prior fame could make players like Fredette challenging to work with. "But with him, it's been the exact opposite," Miller insists, citing examples of how gracious Fredette is to fans who crowd the courtside seats, even on the road, asking him for autographs and photos.
Can Miller explain the attraction to Fredette?
"The only way I can describe it," Miller said, "is this: When we were in Sioux Falls and he went on one of those runs in the third quarter where he scored I don't know how many straight points -- it wasn't with just one shot, where you see shooters make every shot in a row. He did it every way you could do it. As one of the guys on the team said, 'We just witnessed the Jimmer sensation right there.' We saw real quick how he was able to impact the game."
Fredette put on the same kind of show at the D-League All-Star Game.
Still, the fact that Fredette had been playing in places such as Sioux Falls and Reno, instead of Boston and Los Angeles, shows how his NBA career has stalled -- and how hard he's willing to fight to revive it.
Felipe Lopez, the one-time Sports Illustrated cover boy as a high schooler who never went on to the fame predicted for him at St. John's or in the NBA after that, happened to be at the Westchester game on Sunday. "I give him a lot of credit for being willing to come down here and work to get back," Lopez said.
For his part, Fredette doesn't complain, saying, "I'm no different than any of these other guys in the D-League." He still jokes easily about himself, too, unabashedly telling stories of how security guards stop him at arenas -- even at the D-League All-Star Game -- if he forgets his credential.
If Fredette has a parallel as a pro, it's not really Lin -- it's Tim Tebow, even though Tebow played a different sport. Both Tebow and Fredette were college sensations drafted a bit higher than perhaps they should have, and their high draft positions became even more baggage when their careers didn't take off.
Tebow quit rather than change positions or play in Canada. As Fredette said, "One of the reasons I didn't go to Europe yet is because I do still believe I'm an NBA player. And I think I've proven that."
Still, rather than judge Fredette through the prism of his college days, people would do him a great favor if they saw him for what he is: a basketball journeyman whose pro career is at a crossroads.
Houston, once a terrific scorer for the Knicks, knows it's not smart to say never in sports. He notes the NBA is moving toward offenses that emphasize spacing on the court and shooting 3s -- two strengths of Fredette's game -- and maybe Fredette will indeed find that perfect NBA "fit" he hasn't stumbled upon yet.
Fredette is admittedly unsure whether New York will be it.
College was great, Fredette said, but even he will admit, "What happened in college feels like a long time ago."