GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — The old backboard and pole stand in the same place, although years of heavy snow and frigid upstate weather have battered the small backyard court where dreams were played out. The net is gone, the rim is old and rusted, but this area at 26 Ogden Street is hallowed ground.
Jimmer Fredette, the former BYU sensation who currently is with the Knicks, grew up there. The modest blue colonial served as an indoor court, where his father shouted to stop dribbling in the house and his mother said, “Let him dribble.” The constant noise of a constant bouncing ball echoed so loudly that his father was forced to put in a hardwood floor in the basement.
The backyard served as the local playground for all the neighborhood kids. It also is where Fredette honed his lethal long-range shooting skills. That touch turned on an entire community in 2007 when he led Glens Falls High School to the Class B sectional title in nearby Albany and into the state title game — just 1.1 miles from his home — at Glens Falls Civic Center.
He thrilled the townfolk on a nightly basis with 12 performances of at least 40 points in his senior year.
“He was the best athlete in the high school,” said Chip Corlew, in his 13th year as director of athletics at Glens Falls High School. “We love talking about Jimmer Fredette. I could go on and on about him. Should we start with his athleticism or that he’s a great role model? Or maybe we could talk about his generosity and family values and how he cares about his school and the community. He is such a very special person.”
And therein lies the beauty of Glens Falls and its affection for Jimmer Fredette. It’s about family and friends in close-knit neighborhoods and never forgetting who you are.
“He grew up in a great area with a family-oriented neighborhood where everyone knew each other and looked after one another,” said his father, Al Fredette. “We had old family values where the most important things to do in life is be a good person and show respect, kindness and thoughtfulness.”
The rise of Jimmer
Fredette’s athleticism and shooting prowess drew the attention of basketball recruiters nationwide when he rained three-pointers on the high school opposition in 2007. He went on to Brigham Young University, where he blossomed into one of the nation’s top players. Fredette was named NCAA Division I Player of the Year as a senior in 2011 and swept the Wooden Award, Oscar Robertson Award, Adolph Rupp Trophy and Naismith Award.
He thrust himself into the national spotlight during BYU’s NCAA Tournament run. Jimmermania swept the country as he took BYU to the Sweet Sixteen before losing to Florida in overtime in 2011. He led the country in scoring with an average of 28.9 points per game that season and set 11 BYU records and six Mountain West Conference records, including the scoring record of 52 points in a single game.
He was a first-round draft selection of the Milwaukee Bucks with the 10th overall pick. He was traded to the Sacramento Kings on draft night and has played for four NBA teams.
In his first start in an NBA preseason game, his first basket was a three-pointer over Stephen Curry. But finding steady work has been the challenge.
Dreamed of his big shot
The Knicks signed Fredette to a 10-day contract after his 35-point MVP performance in the NBA Developmental League All-Star Game last week. The Glens Falls icon always dreamed he’d don a Knicks jersey someday.
“He used to write in his journal in first grade that he would be an NBA player,” said his mother, Kay. “His favorite team was the Knicks. And I found the journal while cleaning recently and I gave it a look. It was a little boy’s dream. Sometimes they do come true.”
Just moments after taking the court for the first time as a Knick, Fredette sank a three-pointer against Toronto on Feb. 22. That pleased the fans who had been chanting his name during the rout by the Raptors. But Fredette did not get into the subsequent two games.
Fredette’s love for basketball started in his backyard even before he wrote about his NBA aspirations in his journal at age 7.
“He’d have a ball out there with him at 3 years old,” his father said. “And at 5 years old, he was hitting from three-point range. He had such strong legs and could reach the basket.”
Greg Aunchman, a friend of Fredette’s older brother TJ, was spinning pies at Angelina’s Pizza in Queensbury, Jimmer’s self-professed favorite food spot in town, the other day. Aunchman remembered the toughness of Jimmer, even as a little boy.
“We were all seven years older than Jimmer and we’d physically rough him up,” Aunchman said. “We toughened him up. He was real small and chubby but strong like an ox. But what an amazing athlete.”
Ask anyone in Glens Falls about Jimmer Fredette and it’s as if a bright light goes on. This is a small town that has embraced a local legend, and he in return has shown them the love.
The “Fredette Family Foundation” and “Kids Cash” programs have helped support the school district and its free and reduced lunch program. His website Jimmerosity.org is strictly set up to help others.
“The money that Jimmer puts toward the school’s lunch program gives all of our children an opportunity to go up and eat multiple times a day,” Corlew said. “It’s district-wide and touches hundreds of students who need the financial help. He’s bought hoodies for every kid in our three elementary schools to make sure the students are always warm. He’s outfitted our varsity basketball team with new uniforms complete with shirts, shorts, sneakers and gym bags. It’s an endless amount of support.”
Go anywhere in Glens Falls and Fredette is legend. His impact goes much deeper than three-point baskets. His No. 32 jersey is retired and his home jersey hangs in the high school hallway.
His best friend, Denny Wilhelm, runs the Global Fitness Health Club in Glens Falls. Wilhelm was a high school teammate on the gridiron and the hardwood. The 6-5 Wilhelm, the school’s quarterback, used Fredette as his main target at wide receiver when they were juniors in 2005. The combination helped earn Jimmer Class B Player of the Year honors as a wide receiver.
“I have 60 clients in here and Jimmer sets the bar for everyone,” said Wilhelm, looking around the busy gym. “We’ve been best friends at the Sanford Street Elementary School since we were 5 years old. He screwed up my senior year not playing football. We needed him. I needed him. But he was committed to play basketball at BYU, and I understood.”
Wilhelm went on to play tight end and fullback for three years at the University of Albany. He spent his senior year at BYU, living with Jimmer.
“It was the time of our lives,” Wilhelm said. “I hope he makes it with the Knicks.”
At the high school, football coach Pat Lilac, watching over a group of students playing badminton, said, “Jimmer could have played big-time college football. Penn State and Boston College were interested. We sent tapes of our quarterback and they called and asked about the wide receiver.”
Jimmer wasn’t the only famous Fredette. He got a blink at the spotlight at 8 years old when his 17-year-old sister Lindsay was named Miss New York Teen USA and qualified for the 1998 Miss Teen USA pageant Albany. She was presented the crown and took pictures with Jimmer and Justin Timberlake, who then was with popular boy band NSYNC.
Oddly, when Jimmer earned the 2011 ESPY for National Collegiate Player of the Year, the presenter was Timberlake.
So what does Glens Falls mean to Jimmer Fredette?
“It’s home,” said Fredette, who lives in Denver with his wife of three years, Whitney. “It’s an awesome small town that means everything to me. It’s about the people who are hard-working and believe in family first. When you come back to Glens Falls, you’re the same kid who grew up there, and we have so many lifelong friends who enjoy each other and care about each other.”
A yellowed John Wooden quote remains taped atop the doorway to the Fredettes’ basement
“Talent is God Given — be humble; Fame is Man Given — be thankful; Conceit is self-given — be careful.”
“Jimmer lives by that motto,” Al Fredette said. “He’s very level-headed, even-keeled.”
The old backboard sways in the wind and Kay stares out the kitchen window at the net-less rim. The memories remain.
“I can still hear him bouncing the ball,” she said with a smile.
ABOUT GLENS FALLS
Known for: Fredella Avenue and The Three Squares Historic business districts.
Pro sports: Adirondack Thunder, Calgary Flames ECHL team.
High school sports: Hosted New York state high school basketball championships for 36 years. Tournaments will move after this season.
Hacksaw Jim Duggan: WWF and WCW professional wrestler was born in Glens Falls and was a multisport athlete at Glens Falls High School.
Jimmer Fredette: BYU basketball star and current Knick.
Dave LaPointe: Pitched in majors for nine teams, including Yankees, in 11 years. Also managed Long Island Ducks.
David Palmer: Pitched 10 seasons for Expos, Braves, Phillies and Tigers. He and fellow Glen Falls High School grad Randy St. Claire were Expos teammates in 1984-85.
Rachael Ray: Foodie and talk-show host was born in Glens Falls. Her family moved when she was 8.
Randy St. Claire: Born in Glens Falls, pitched in parts of 10 seasons for Expos, Reds, Twins, Braves and Blue Jays.