Former lottery pick and college basketball star Jimmer Fredette wants to return from China to play in the NBA.
The 29-year-old’s last NBA stint was with the New York Knicks in 2016. Since then, the 6-foot-2 combo guard has made two Chinese Basketball Association All-Star appearances and won CBA’s International MVP award last year.
He has averaged 37.4 points per game since playing in China, shooting 41.2 percent from downtown. HoopsHype recently caught up with Fredette to discuss his future plans and his desire to come back to the United States.
With all the success you’ve had in the Chinese Basketball Association, I’m very curious where your interest stands in potentially getting back to play in the NBA?
Jimmer Fredette: I want to have another opportunity in the NBA because there is some unfinished business for me there. After this season is over, I want another NBA chance. This time, I’ll succeed. I feel really good about how I am playing. I know that if I get a chance, I will take advantage of it and be successful and help a team win. I’m excited to see what the future holds. I’m going to finish my contract in China this season and be the best I can be for my team. But after that, I will see what is out there and try to be on a roster for the NBA postseason.
What would you tell a head coach or an executive about why this time will be different?
JF: I can be a great teammate, bringing it every single night. I know what it takes to win and I’ve helped lead teams to winning cultures. I want to be a part of a winning culture. I’m going to help the young guys get better. I can be a great fit on the locker room and on the floor at a high level. There are certain times when I was younger, I was occasionally more passive. This time, when I get that chance, if I get it, they’ll know that I will do whatever I can to help my team win. I’m going to be more aggressive each and every night. I want to have that mindset whenever I play and help the team the most with my skill set, which is as a scorer.
You recently scored 75 points during one game for the Shanghai Sharks in the CBA. Can you walk me through that experience and how dialed in you were on that day?
JF: It was an amazing game to be a part of and it really doesn’t happen often as a basketball player. I was fortunate to have a great game like that. It broke my heart that we lost on a buzzer beater. I actually started off the game pretty slow. I didn’t make any shots in the first quarter; I had zero points. I missed a few wide-open looks. But I was feeling pretty good. During the second half, I felt amazing. I got out in transition and started to see some threes go in and I was able to get to the foul line a lot. From that point on, I just continued to score. We got a lot of stops in the second half, which led to some easy looks. You can handle the ball better when you’re feeling confident. You feel like no one can guard you at any time and defenses feel like they’re at your mercy. It’s hard to describe. My teammates did a great job getting me open, whether they were setting screens while in transition or finding me on catch-and-shoot opportunities. They were looking to find me because they knew how good I was feeling. I had such an amazing night and it is something I will never forget.
What was the worldwide reaction like after the game, both personally and online? I’m sure a ton of people reached out.
JF: My social media definitely exploded after that game both in the United States and in China. I posted it on my Instagram and it got thousands of comments. It was really cool. Lots of people from back home messaged me. We have an app called Weibo here and Kobe Bryant posted about me on there. He said I had an amazing game and said that I can do anything I want to do if I put my mind to it. He added the Mamba Mentality hashtag, of course. Kobe has a lot of fans here, so it was great to have his support.
You probably felt like you were on top of the world after a night like that. What are some of the other highlights from your experience playing abroad?
JF: When I first got over here, the Sharks hadn’t made the playoffs in around seven years or so. They weren’t playing great and couldn’t get over the hump. People didn’t know who I was and didn’t expect me to be very good based on the way that I look. No one who looks like me had ever had success out there before. But the first season I got there, we started off undefeated and beat really good teams. We went from having games that were in half-filled arenas to selling out our games, people were really excited. It was fun to see the turnaround from the Shanghai fans when we made the playoffs. The buzz was so different around the city after that. They’ve been so great and really supportive of me no matter where I am in the country.
Have other players solicited your advice about how they, too, could play in the CBA?
JF: Yeah, that actually happens all the time – text, Instagram, Twitter – and a lot of guys want to know how they can get over to China. I try to help them find a Chinese agent because they won’t talk to you if you don’t have one. It’s a popular idea because the season is short and the money is really good and there’s a chance that after the year is over, you can get on an NBA roster. For natural-born scorers who can put the ball in the basket, China is a great place to be. But we play three times a week so you have to keep yourself healthy and ready. You have to produce and you have to make sure to play really well because otherwise, they might get rid of you. It’s a grind, but it’s a lot of fun.
What were some of the ways that playing in China has helped you develop?
JF: I think it was the best thing that could have happened to me. There are times when it’s helpful to get away from a situation in order to really sit back and look at it and see what you need to do to get better and to perform at a high level. I think I’ve been able to do that in China. My confidence is at an all-time high. I’m better than I’ve ever been before as a basketball player. I feel like I’m in a groove, I feel good about things. I’m super grateful for the opportunity. I’ve matured as a person. Since I left the NBA, I’ve been able to have a daughter. I’ve been able to grow my family. It’s really put things into perspective.
How big of a role has your family played in your desire to be in the United States?
JF: That’s a huge motivation for me. I want to be able to watch my kids grow up. I’m a big family man and they aren’t able to be with me in China for the whole season. They only come out for about a month through the season. It kills me to not be able to be with them. I want them to live with me full time and I want to be there and watch them grow up. I’ve done this for three years and it has run its course. It’s a good time for me to get back while the kids are still young and I don’t have to miss too much of their lives. I want to come home to see them after games and practices, not just on FaceTime.
Has there been a significant change to the style of your game since you left the NBA?
JF: I’ve worked extremely hard to get a lot better off the ball. Being able to catch the ball and shoot, I’ve also worked on my release to make it as quick as possible. As soon as I catch the ball, it’s going up. I’ve improved my footwork, a lot of it is doing the work before you catch the ball. I sprint to get off screens so my defender can’t catch me, which makes me so much better at shooting off the different types of screens. I didn’t have any of that in my game when I was coming out of college because I was ball dominant. I just had the ball in my hands all of the time in college and in high school. I knew I needed to work on that aspect of my game to reach the goals I’ve had as a pro. I’ve been working on my effectiveness and efficiency and it’s really paid off this season.
I’m just taking good shots and making them. I think this will help me perform better at a lower usage rate, too. I’d still have the confidence to take quality shots – whether it’s transition catch-and-shoot, transition ball screen or just spotting up and relocating. I definitely get that itch when I watch NBA games, I know that I can be out there. They’re shooting so many three-pointers and so much of it has to do with space, movement and transition. During half-court sets, they’re looking to space and drive and shoot and that plays into my skill set so well. It’s absolutely my style. I see their offensive systems and everyone can use another shooter, another scorer.
How has your defensive intensity improved since we last saw your play in the NBA? You’ve had several games with at least five steals so far this season, though it was a knock on you before.
JF: That’s something that I need to put emphasis on, I’m just fighting and playing as good as I can. I have a willingness to defend and I’ve gotten leaner and I have gotten quicker. I’ve put on more strength. I know how to use my body effectively now that I’m older, which helps me cut guys off. It helps to know the scouting report and do whatever I can to make the guy that I am guarding feel uncomfortable and do something that he does not love to do. I’m trying to take away the one or two things he does best and put him off balance. It’s about playing smart within a defensive scheme. I’m not going to be All-NBA First-Team Defense, but I’ve had a lot of good games and I’m leading the league in steals. It’s a focus of mine and I don’t want to just steal the ball. I want to be in a good position to stay in front of my guy and just continue to work on that end of the floor. I’ll never be a liability on defense. I’m able to guard guys today in the NBA more than before because they don’t post up as much as they used to. It’s more stretching the floor, driving the basketball, kicking it out. Guarding a bigger defender might not impact me as much as they once did.
Speaking to your competitive nature, can you clarify what happened between you and Stephon Marbury last season?
JF: [Laughs] Yeah, for sure. He came in and it was a tight game. I went in for the layup and he swiped at me pretty hard, closed fisted. I got upset and then I pushed him. We got in each other’s face and it was something that I felt was dirty and I needed him to know that I wasn’t going to allow it. I’m a tough guy and I am feisty and I want to compete. You can’t push me around. I may not look it because I’m pretty stoic and I don’t show a lot of emotion on the court. But if someone is going to try to bully me, I am definitely not going to let it happen. People were surprised that I lost my cool. They don’t expect that out of me. I’m not a young guy, though. I’m a grown man. I don’t care who you are. I’m going to compete as hard as I can against you. We’re good now, though. We spoke after the game. He’s a legend over here. I watched him play when I was growing up because I’m from New York and he played for the Knicks.
What kind of marketing deals have you had while living and playing in China?
JF: I’m with a company called 361 and this is my third year. They’ve created a signature shoe for me every year. Every time they put my shoe out with the Chinese characters that say “Jimo Dashen” they sell out every time. That’s my nickname out here and it means the lonely master. “Jimo” means lonely and it sounds like Jimmer. My teammates told me that it’s a good meaning — like you’re alone at the top of the mountain and no one can reach your level. Like, you’re the best basketball player and it’s a compliment.
Interview answers edited for clarity with permission by the subject