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Jimmer Fredette joins Suns hopeful for second NBA chance

(Kevin Zimmerman/Arizona Sports)

PHOENIX — Jimmer Fredette’s basketball career so far can be laid out in four phases: his cult-like following at BYU, a disappointing NBA career that followed, a D-League stint after that and then a career refresh overseas.

He hopes Friday marked the beginning of the fifth.

Fredette’s first official day as a Phoenix Suns guard came with a light practice. His new team is attempting to keep the late-season momentum with a forward-looking focus as injuries have hit Tyler Johnson, Richaun Holmes, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Josh Jackson in the past week.

That puts Fredette in a weird spot with nine games left.

With a contract for the remainder of 2018-19 and a team option for next season, what can he prove starting Saturday in a visit to the NBA squad that drafted him, the Sacramento Kings? He’ll be active, yet which teammates are available in front of him and how much head coach Igor Kokoskov turns to him remain to be seen. Beyond that, what Phoenix will do with Fredette is anyone’s guess.

But to Fredette, this opportunity is enough.

“Not a lot of times do guys get second chances, second opportunities, especially at 30 years old,” he said. “So I’m grateful for the opportunity. I realize that.”

Fredette averaged 36 points per game on 48 percent shooting and 42 percent accuracy from three this past season with the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association.

Phoenix had been on Fredette’s radar and vice versa for some time as it searched for veterans looking to help build a hard-working culture, Fredette said. Once the Sharks’ playoff run ended recently, it was time to make his NBA return three years after his last appearance.

“I always thought positively, you know, thought it was going to happen,” he said. “You kind of got to speak things into existence if you want them to happen.”

When he entered the NBA, Fredette wasn’t enough of a floor general to play point guard and not big enough or comfortable enough to play shooting guard. He improved working off the ball and on defense while in China, which is known as a scorer’s league.

“For me, for sure (I improved) being able to play off the ball,” he said. “That’s something I didn’t do a ton in college … I put a real focus on being able to do that, because you know, in the NBA, they kind of had me playing both. I had to continue to work on that part of my game. I’ve gotten, really, much better at that.”

Fredette must prove that he’s adapted to the more physical NBA game on defense. Offensively, he’ll need to show the ability to read, react and make the right pass — or find his shots off the ball.

If there’s one thing not to question about Fredette’s skillset, it’s the range and accuracy on his jumper.

That’s why the first signs of Jimmer Mania came when the then-junior guard poured in 49 points against the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson back in 2009. He would go on to produce more than a handful of similar games and won the AP Player of the Year Award as a senior, raising his NBA Draft profile.

A rough NBA career with four teams followed after he was drafted 10th overall by the Kings in 2011.

Fredette averaged 6.0 points, 1.4 assists and shot 42 percent from the field in 235 games between Sacramento, Chicago, New Orleans and New York. In those stops, Fredette crossed paths with first-year Suns coaches Corliss Williamson (Kings) and Jamelle McMillan (Pelicans), which gives him some familiarity as he joins Phoenix.

After his NBA career came to a halt, Fredette, a Glens Falls, N.Y. native, spent a stint in the then D-League with the New York Knicks’ affiliate before opting for the CBA in 2016.

“Sometimes this is not the right situation at the right time,” he said. “It happens to a lot of guys in the league. It’s tough.”

Now, he’ll hope to study up quickly enough to play in Kokoskov’s offense as the Suns attempt to fill in the holes left by injury.

As the team’s front office leadership is expected to shuffle when the offseason hits, Fredette must make an impression with much unknown beyond these eight games.

First up, he returns to Sacramento on Saturday to face the team that drafted him. Then on Monday, Phoenix will visit the Jazz not far from Provo, Utah, where he attended college.

“We don’t want to wait too long but also I don’t want to put too much pressure on him that he’s going to step on the court tomorrow and necessarily dominate the game,” Kokoskov said.

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