1. Jimmer Fredette. Remember that name, all you folks who only pay attention to the NCAA tournament when it's time to fill out your bracket for the office pool. He's the Mormon scoring sensation at Brigham Young University who is the talk of college basketball right now.
The 6-foot-1 guard is dropping 30-foot bombs for a joke and slicing through defenses for twisting lay-ups when they try to stop that. He leads the NCAA in scoring with 27.4 per game and dropped 43 points to hand No.4 San Diego State their first loss of the season, prompting Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder to tweet: Jimmer Fredette is the best scorer in the world!!
That may be a stretch -- most people would argue it's Durant, who had 47 points of his own last night -- but he's fun to watch, and whether people are comfortable with or not, there's something kind of neat -- underdoggy maybe? -- about watching a white guy tear it up on the basketball court. I think you can say that without setting the Internets on fire; let's face it, it doesn't happen very often -- Steve Nash beware.
In the meantime Fredette, a converted Mormon, is getting some serious rock star treatment: After No. 9 BYU had sealed a hard-fought 71-58 win over No. 4 San Diego State, knocking the Aztecs from the ranks of the undefeated, the frenzy intensified. Swarms of white-clad students rushed the floor. The crush of people and cameras trying to get close to BYU senior Jimmer Fredette was so suffocating that officials hustled Fredette to a place behind press row so he could enjoy the mayhem from a safe remove. Suddenly, a police officer appeared at his side. Thats when Jimmer Fredette graduated from folk hero to rock star."That was a little crazy," said Fredette later. "I had never experienced that before. It was cool ... but a little scary."That's what you get when you score 43 points in the biggest, most-hyped regular-season game in school history (and the biggest one nationally so far this season). The game didn't disappoint; it was close until the last four minutes. But ultimately, the Aztecs were just like just everyone else who has faced BYU this season: they didn't have answer for the Jimmer. The Aztecs, the best defensive team in the conference, threw all sorts of defenders at Fredette, from D.J. Gay to Billy White to Chase Tapley, sometimes two at a time. The defensive pressure frequently forced him to change his mind in mid-air and pass instead of shoot (and he coughed up the ball four times) but he still filled the bucket. For one stretch starting midway through the second half, Fredette scored 24 of the Cougars' 27 points. Altogether Fredette made 14 of 24 shots, including five of eight from beyond the arc (often way beyond the arc). He did his best work in the lane, working hard to get off floaters and off-balance shots against a forest of long arms."He's a great player who knows how to get open shots," said sophomore forward Brandon Davies. "When he's hot like that all we do is crash the boards and get the ball to him."San Diego coach Steve Fisher said Fredette is "as good a player as I have ever coached against. He is just sensational and extremely hard to guard. Fredette scored every time he got the ball there for a stretch."
2. Last night Trey Johnson made his Toronto Raptors debut; the D-League bucket filler is yet another 10-day contract signee. Hayley Mick did a nice job chronicalling his first day trying to make an impression that could change his life: After signing, Johnson called his parents. He tweeted: "Thanking God!" Then he ate dinner with his former D-League coach Scott Roth, now an assistant coach with the Raptors. Roth picked Johnson for Bakersfield back in the 2007-2008 season and has kept tabs on his young star ever since. "We've got to be coaches, but we've got to be their friends, too," Roth said. "I'm a product of that league, I'm a product of that hard work it takes to get out of there. And I'm always cheering for those guys."
Roth knows that 10-day contracts are still a long shot. Players don't often get the minutes they need to display their abilities. (Johnson has had one other 10-day contract, with Cleveland in 2008-2009, during which he played in four games.)
But Johnson, Roth said, is a special case. He's tough and he's a scorer, but he's also single-minded in his quest to make the NBA. He played professionally in Europe last season, then took a big pay cut to return to the D-League to try to claw his way out.
"This is my goal, this is my dream, so I felt like to leave and take money, I'd be giving up on myself," Johnson said.
On Wednesday, Johnson carefully pulled the No. 12 jersey over his head, a number chosen in honour of a cousin, Michael Johnson, a high school basketball star killed in a 2005 car accident.
He was the first Toronto Raptor to hit the floor during warm-up.
At the start of the second quarter, his chance came. Johnson kissed his fingers and pointed skyward as he stepped onto the floor.
His first couple touches were minor flubs: a pass that tipped out of bounds, a layup in heavy traffic in which the ball was stripped away. Then, six minutes into his job interview, he sunk a three. It was his only basket of the night. It was also a start.
The Raptors will be signing more 10-day guys as they try to find a diamond in the rough and make good on a season lost. It is one of the most challenging gigs in sports; an expiring lottery ticket that can either bring you riches and lifeling security in the form of an NBA career, or it can end without so much as a whimper, releasing incredibly talented athletes back into basketball purgatory, leaving them to look on from the outside at the most exclusive team sport in the world.
For a fuller taste of the 10-day life, Lee Jenkins' diary of Zabian Dowdell's 10-day contract with Phoenix earlier this month should not be missed: The 10-day contract is as much a part of the NBA as the max deal, though nobody is using it to hire personal chefs. Players are signed for 10 days, but they can be released after one. If they last the duration, they are either released then or signed for another 10. If they are still hanging around after that, they are either released or signed for the rest of the season to a prorated minimum contract. "It's like being a substitute teacher," says point guard Steve Nash, except teachers are guaranteed time in front of the class. A player has 10 days to prove he belongs, without any promise that he will actually see the court in a game or even a practice. A 10-day can be evaluated on something as trivial as the high fives he gives his teammates when they come to the bench or the shots he takes with a ball boy when everyone else has gone home. "You feel like you are on 10 one-day contracts," says Nets head coach Avery Johnson. "You don't sleep a lot. You look at your phone all the time. No one is sending a limo to your house with roses for your wife. You are taking a taxi and turning in the receipt."
Johnson revived his 16-year career with two 10-day contracts in 1992. Kurt Rambis made his last 14 seasons. So did Anthony Mason. The 10-day contract allows teams to affordably fill holes on their bench and D-League players to audition for dream jobs. By rule, teams could start offering 10-day contracts on Jan. 5. Dowdell signed his four days later.
He is typical of a 10-day, forever on the fringe and running out of time.
3. The Toronto-driven Texas train keeps on rolling. The Longhorns jumped to No.7 after their huge win over then No.2 Kansas on the weekend. Last night they went to Oklahoma State and won in a romp on the road to improve to 17-3 and remain undefeated in the Big 12. Tristan Thompson of Brampton -- the Big 12 rookie of the week last week -- continued his strong play, with 14 points in 31 minutes. Point guard Cory Joseph was his usual solid self, holding the fort for 35 minutes and shooting 4-of-6 from the floor. Thompson's play is drawing attention from NBA daft experts. This from Chad Ford of ESPN who has him ranked No.24 on his list of NBA draft prospects for next season: Thompson had been quietly working his way into the hearts of NBA scouts. But over the course of the last week, he subtracted the word "quietly." Thompson is coming off two high-profile games -- big wins over ranked opponents Texas A&M and Kansas. Against the Aggies, Thompson scored 18 points, grabbed six boards and blocked four shots. Against Kansas, his defense against Marcus and Markieff Morris helped Texas pull away in the second half. He finished with 12 points, six boards and five blocks. Thompson is long, athletic and has shown a terrific motor on both ends of the floor. While he's not as polished as some other top freshmen, a number of scouts I spoke with have him ranked somewhere between No. 15 and No. 25 on their boards. Thompson might be a bit of a tweener, as he's not the ideal height to play the 4 (he's 6-8 in shoes) but his combination of explosiveness, length and hustle make him a serious draft prospect.