About 12 hours before Jimmer Fredette took home the Naismith award (the Heisman trophy of college basketball) last night, he was speaking to a gathering of about 300 in an LDS chapel on Bering Street in Houston. The event, which headlined coach Dave Rose as its featured speaker, was sponsored by the Houston Chapter of BYU Alumni. The special "morningside" was held in the same church building that Coach Rose attended growing up. At the rear of the chapel, overflow seating spilled onto a not-quite-regulation sized basketball court where Rose played in his younger days.
It was not communicated prior to the event that Fredette would be there. But as Sunday approached, there were at least a few of us who suspected Jimmer might show, given his close relationship with Coach Rose and being in Houston for award ceremonies around the Final Four. When he casually walked across the back of the chapel word spread quickly and soon we were all abuzz and hoping that he would say a few words.
The speakers were introduced by Garner Meads, a former BYU player (2000-2005) who now lives in Houston. Among his opening stories, he recounted a water skiing trip on Utah Lake with Coach Rose during the recruiting cycle. At some point it was Coach Rose's turn and things were going well until he took a nasty spill on the wake. Everyone in the boat, including Meads and fellow recruit Travis Hansen expected Coach Rose to come back to the boat. But instead he insisted on taking one more turn around the lake. A couple weeks later Meads learned that Rose had indeed cracked 3 ribs in his first fall, but was so determined not to be outdone that he continued skiing through it all.
Few times this year has Jimmer been a side kick or an opening act, but in this setting he was (at least based on the speaking order). Few soft-spoken 22 year olds can have such an impact on a crowd as he did. Everyone, young and old, waiting to see and hear what would happen next, as if he had just launched a shot from mid-court. As has been the case on the court and off all year, Jimmer lived up to his billing.
Fredette opened with a story about gearing up for his first speaking engagement at a fireside (an afterhours devotional gathering common in the LDS faith). He was a freshman at BYU at the time and unaware that several hundred young people attend these events, whereas in his hometown in New York, the group might be 10-15 tops. Needless to say, he’s become more comfortable being the focus of attention over the past four years.
Jimmer soon settled in on his core message of setting goals, working hard and making good decisions.
Many have already reported that his older brother TJ encouraged Jimmer in his career pursuits, including drafting a contract with the younger Fredette that he would do everything possible to make it to the NBA. The contract (which TJ insisted must contain Jimmer’s real name James to be official), has been posted above his bed to this day, serving as a constant reminder of the commitment that was made.
When others were off to parties, Jimmer was off to the gym, both as a means of avoiding some of the temptations of youth, and getting ahead while the competition was distracted. Citing this as his secret, he once again emphasized that team practices were just a minimum, but it was through his individual efforts that his game really improved.
Making Good Decisions
Fredette’s third point was the importance of making good decisions. He cited a quote from legendary basketball coach John Wooden who said "The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching." He also emphasized that you have to be willing to give up something that you think might be good for a greater cause.
The story keeps going below the video....
For the record, Jimmer is also a pretty good analyst! Here he picks Butler and UConn to be in the championship game. You’ll have to watch it to see who he thinks will win!
Fredette was followed by Coach Rose’s wife, Cheryl, who recounted several experiences that have played an important role in her life. She started by telling the story of Dave, co-captain on the famous 1983 Phi Slama Jama team at University of Houston, telling her that he wanted to change his professional pursuits from business to coaching.
“Honey, I don’t want to be a business man”
“Well, what do you want to do?”
“I think I want to be a coach.”
“Honey, coaches don’t make very much money. Is this what you really want to do?”
“Well then, I think you should do it”
Cheryl next recounted the events leading up to the discovery of coach Rose’s pancreatic cancer. On a return flight from spending time with family at Disneyland in June 2009, Dave suddenly became ill and required special attention from the flight staff. There were no pillows on board and at one point a woman offered her jacket as a substitute. As the plane landed, paramedics boarded and the rest of the passengers deplaned. Despite their best efforts, Cheryl and the airline staff were not able to locate the woman to return the jacket. This always bothered Cheryl – that she had no idea how to pay back the woman who provided this selfless gift.
Later, as Rose lay in the hospital it was determined that he was bleeding internally. Ten units of blood later he was stabilized, but again the idea that they did not know who gave the blood that saved his life bothered Cheryl and caused her much anxiety. In the end, she determined that the best way to pay the debt was to be the “stranger” for others, and her actions since her husband’s recovery reflect this attitude.
Coach Dave Rose
Few college basketball coaches can claim greater success on the court over the last 6 seasons than can Dave Rose, head men’s basketball coach at Brigham Young University. In that timeframe, BYU has not had a season in which they have won fewer than 20 games (after posting a 9-21 record the year before his debut). In 2010, BYU finally broke a 17-year drought in the NCAA tournament and this year took the team to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in 30 years. Those who have followed the program for years will tell you that this turnaround had more to do with Coach Rose than the set of players on the court.
Coach Rose centered his remarks more on his life experiences than on aspects of coaching, specifically recalling service opportunities and his battle with cancer.
Rose recalled a special opportunity to visit the people of Nicaragua with his wife, daughter, Charles Abouo (player), and Jimmer Fredette. For 5 days they provided service of various kinds to locals. At one point Rose recalled his players describing an experience with a local woman. After visiting with her in her home, the two young men readied to leave when the elderly woman offered a prayer on their behalf. In the prayer she asked that the players be blessed with food to eat for the next day. Rose commented that experiences like this remind us that in life we need to “want less and give more.”
It was 24 hours from the time Dave Rose became sick on a flight home and when doctors finally found an operable tumor on his pancreas. Emergency surgery was performed, and Rose was eventually transported to the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City. It was here that he learned that the tumor was malignant and that further treatment would be necessary. Rose credits his faith for seeing his family through these difficult times and providing him perspective on his “second chance at life.”
While a patient, Rose was visited by Cecil Samuelson, President of Brigham Young University. In their conversation, Samuelson expressed that it’s not so important how many years you live, but rather, what you do with the years you have. This is advice that the Roses’ have taken to heart – from literally climbing peaks around their Utah home they never bothered to climb, to taking time to ponder the exhibits at the BYU Museum of Art. Life feels much richer now for the 53-year old coach and his wife – each day is a gift.
The special morningside ended as it began – excitement over Jimmer, Coach Rose and the memorable season for the BYU Cougars. As members of the audience filed forward to shake hands with the speakers, I couldn’t help but wonder whether we (as BYU fans) will ever see the likes of Jimmer again at BYU, and for how much longer Coach Rose can keep the program growing in stature as he has. While this may be a peak, we certainly hope there are more to come (even if they are slightly lower).
We happened to park near Jimmer and on the way out to the car I was able to shake his hand and congratulate him on his season. Just as sincere as he’s been in public all year he simply smiled and said, "thank you." With fans around the nation, I wish him the best in his career and hope that an NBA career will afford him even more time for perfecting his jump shot and further developing his ability to dissect the best laid defensive plans.