Posted Jun 18 2011 9:56AM - Updated Jun 18 2011 9:42PM
By Wednesday, the mania had grown to such an extreme that about 50 media people descended on the Jazz practice facility, about a 10-minute drive from downtown Salt Lake City, to witness the mega-event that was the Jimmer Fredette draft workout.
Which came after general manager Kevin O'Connor would get stopped around town and urged to take Fredette, as if by organized grass-roots effort, because that groundswell of support just doesn't happen.
Which came after months of seemingly endless comments to Fredette, on campus and around greater Provo, from people he knew and friends he didn't know he had, about how going from BYU to the Jazz would be the storybook outcome.
The phenomenon of Jimmer is how team president Randy Rigby described it to the Salt Lake Tribune. The decorated college career. The extraordinary popularity in Utah. The name recognition everywhere, and needing only the first name at that. The flick of the wrist and the swish from 25 feet out, or from the locker room, or from the lobby of the team hotel.
It is intense, the local pressure on the Jazz to draft The Jimmer with the 12th choice on Thursday, after Utah spends the No. 3 selection acquired from the Nets in the Deron Williams deal. From a marketing standpoint, it is the no-brainer of the draft. It is also realistic, as the 12-spot is close to where many analysts have pegged his talent. It is not some reach in the name of community relations.
It all adds up to a lottery pick and important opportunity for a team in rebuilding mode ... and the potential headache of a lifetime if Fredette is still on the board, the Jazz pass, and he becomes something special in another city. That would only be thrown in their face for the next few thousand years.
"Sure," O'Connor said of the public push in Utah to get Fredette to the Jazz. "And that's good. It's a basketball-crazy state, and that's great. We just deal with it."
There are the certainties: O'Connor is an experienced and successful executive, he is grounded and will not be swayed by public opinion, and CEO Greg Miller has told him to make the right call, not the popular call. Crowd favorites may sell tickets, but so does winning. Ask people in Indiana how this storyline can turn out -- the Pacers wanted a guard in 1987 and passed on local legend Steve Alford at No. 11 to the great disbelief of fans, who were instead stuck with some Californian named Reggie Miller.
That Fredette is an actual candidate at 12 makes it harder for the Jazz to duck. The easy out would be if they take Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight at No. 3, a possibility, and predictably decide not to go backcourt with both lottery picks. Or, Jimmer could be gone before Utah picks.
"I want to be drafted by whoever wants me the most," Fredette said. "Obviously the Jazz would be great. I would love to play there. I feel very comfortable there -- a lot of people, a lot of fan base there, family friends there. It would be something that would be good if I could, but you never know with the draft. I just want to be in the right situation."
He is asked if he can imagine the outcry if the Jazz do not take him.
"Yeah," Fredette said. "I hope it's not too bad, to be honest with you. I hope that everything would be great with them. I think that their fans love 'em enough that if I wasn't picked by them, they'll still be fine. They'll pick the guy that they want in their system and they feel will flourish best in there. I think the fans are smart enough to know that if they don't pick me, it'll be OK still."
He is from Glens Falls, N.Y., but after four years at BYU and a 2010-11 season where he was named All-America and posted the 11th-highest single-season scoring average in Division I history (28.9), Fredette has been adopted by Utah as an understandable source of pride.
That would Utah, the state. Whether Utah the team does the same is what remains to be seen.
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