It was TJ who told him that being able to score when things were against him was what made a good player great. It was TJ who spent a good part of his childhood instilling in Jimmer the value of hard work, persistence and unshakable focus, never imagining how this investment in his little brother's future would help save his own.
Jimmer has heard the doubts his whole life: He was too slow, too short, too chubby, too white to play at the next level, whether it was the Albany City Rocks AAU team or Division I. Even his Mormon faith, which he and his two siblings chose as kids when given the option by their parents, Kay, a Catholic, and Al, a Mormon convert, was evidence of some perceived lack. "People wondered, How tough can he really be?" says Al. Though his 2,404 points at Glens Falls High rank sixth in state history, Fredette was overlooked by the basketball powers. His choice came down to Siena and BYU, the alma mater of his sister, Lindsay.
Jimmer's most steadfast supporter was TJ, who recognized a prodigy in his chunky little brother. "He was the most determined, competitive four-year-old I had ever seen," says TJ, who is seven years older. Playing with TJ and TJ's friends on the family's backyard court, Jimmer developed range—at five he could drain a three—and an arsenal of head fakes, scoop shots and floaters to get around the long limbs. "He willed himself to find ways to win, even if he was physically outmatched," says TJ. "From the time he was 10, I was telling everybody he was going to make the NBA."
At eight Jimmer graduated to pickup ball with Al and TJ against adults at Crandall Park, then Hoop It Up tournaments, then trips to Hartford and New York City for no-foul games on the blacktop "that toughened him up," says Al. Jimmer's development was a family affair: Al, a financial adviser, helped coach his AAU teams while Kay—a substitute teacher who coined the nickname Jimmer at birth (his real name is James)—put no restrictions on bouncing the ball in the house and even built him a small dribbling studio in the basement with a linoleum floor and mirrors on the wall. Kay's brother, Lee Taft, a personal trainer who now runs his eponymous Speed Academy in Indianapolis, started him on running drills when he was five. "I wouldn't be where I am today without him," says Fredette, who still works out with Taft. "He's the reason I move as well as I do."
But TJ, a point guard on the Glens Falls High team, was his best friend and greatest inspiration. "I wanted to be like him at such a young age that I think it helped me with my development," says Fredette. Jimmer excelled at other sports—at 12 he could crush a baseball 350 feet, and as a junior at Glens Falls High he was an all-state receiver—but practicing those sports bored him. Practicing basketball was fun. TJ made it fun.
TJ helped Jimmer hone his free throw form by pretending every shot had a game on the line. "He'd make so many in a row that I had to make stuff up," TJ says. "O.K., now you're playing at the Olympics. Now you make this shot, and you feed all the people in the world."
TJ made up one drill he called the Gauntlet, for which Jimmer, TJ and his ever-obliging friends would gather in a dark, narrow hallway at the Latter Day Saints church in nearby Queensbury. The only light was at the end of the hall, so Jimmer had to keep his head up as he dribbled forward, practicing his crossover and spin moves as the older boys randomly popped out of doorways to try to rattle him.
By the time Jimmer was 18 and old enough to join TJ and his friends in games against inmates at two prisons, nothing fazed him. In his first trip into the Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility, where the prisoners on the court were aggressive, the ones in the crowd were loud and guards lined the perimeter, Jimmer scored 40 points. "The prisoners went crazy," says TJ. "They loved him."
TJ once had dreams of his own basketball stardom. But unlike Jimmer, he couldn't focus—on athletics or in school. From the time he was 11 he suffered debilitating panic attacks, terrifying him and his parents and often landing him in the hospital. "It was a claustrophobic feeling, like having a heart attack," he says.
By the time he finished his playing career, at Adirondack Community College in Queensbury, N.Y., in 2002, TJ had learned to cope with his condition. Then when he was 24, he suffered another neurological blow. In the summer of 2006 he had surgery for a torn left ACL. The knee healed, but the headaches, dizziness, dropping blood pressure, blurry vision and balance problems that plagued him immediately after the surgery didn't go away. "I'd sit on the couch and feel like I was falling," he says.