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April 14, 2011

Befriending a Ballhog

The final game is finished, the last award handed out, and with that the collegiate career of Jimmer Fredette comes to an official close. His status on the Cougar team, reduced to Jimmeritus. He played in 139 games over four years, but sadly I saw only 10 of them. A mere 7 percent of the man's career is all I witnessed, and yet Jimmer moves on as the most exciting player I've ever cheered for.

That's saying something.

I've cheered for more powerful players (Karl Malone).
I've cheered for more consistent players (Austin Collie).
I've cheered for more athletic players (Usain Bolt).

But I'd never cheered for someone who provided more excitement than Jimmer.

Part of it was due to his long-balling, paint-centric, off balance shot making excellence.The halfcourt shot against Utah, the spin away three versus Colorado State, the knocked-to-the-ground-yet-still-scored layup against San Diego State.

Some of it came from the fact that Jimmer exceeded his racial expectations. It's always intriguing (to me at least) when black players succeed in positions usually dominated by white players and vice versa. For example: Michael Vick as a quarterback, Tiger Woods as a golfer and Arvydas Sabonis as a center. The point guard position has turned into a black one* in recent years. Even if you refuse to believe that, you have to admit it's enjoyable to see a white guy with a cross-over.

But mainly the excitement swells from me never having cheered for a ballhog before.

You see, I'v never had a ballhog on any team I've ever liked. As a result I've historically tended to mock the more notable members of the ballhogging clan. Events such as Kobe's 81 point fiasco or Iverson's bout with 60 stood in my mind as examples of selfishness, arrogance, and a refusal to play the game the right way. What I failed to realize is how much fun it is to root for a player who at times simply cannot be stopped. The feeling is akin to the tingling in the chest received once you near the end of a game of risk and you know your opponent is powerless against you. The difference is that when cheering for one of these scoring machines -- who are capable of putting up 40 plus on any given night -- you have the hope of that feeling from the beginning all the way to the end of the game.

I wish I was as nonathletic as Jimmer

Clearly ballhogs don't make a team invincible, but they make you feel like they are. With Jimmer in the lineup I could count BYU as a contender against any team, because on any given night the scorer could demoralize the enemy with a crippling barrage of baskets.Watching, wondering if this night was the night Jimmer would explode provided an excitement unlike any other I've had while viewing sports.

And with Jimmer, the explosions were frequent enough to merit a legitimate anticipation that resulted in pure entertainment. There was the 47 point outing at Utah, a Huntsman Center record for individual scoring. 43 against number four San Diego State in the biggest game in BYU's regular season history.39 points in a win over UNLV. 42 over Colorado State. 49 against Arizona. 98 points during three games in the NCAA tournament.

Then along came New Mexico. BYU had lost four straight to the Lobos, but the streak died as Jimmer scored an unstoppable 52 points in victory, a mere one of which came from the free throw line**.

Sadly, as noted above, I didn't become a convert until near the end of the legend's line, allowing me to see only two handfuls of Jimmer's games. But I wasn't the only person who became a late fan of the man taking all the Cougar's shots. In a true stunner I was witness to five anti-BYU associates converting into Jimmer supporters over the course of the season. For comparison sake, I never saw Dennis Pitta or Harvey Unga create such a change of heart in the innards of the antis.

Perhaps it's a sign that many of us had never rooted for a ballhog before. Doing so involves a feeling of imperviousness when you know your team's best player can't be denied despite the double teaming, despite the physicality, despite the expectation to dominate night in night out. Jimmer invited that sense of power into my sporting life for the first time and I loved every moment of it. As a result the college basketball season left me feeling a way I had never felt before. As March passed away I for once wasn't looking towards college football, but instead was left wanting more.

Jim-more, to be exact.

1 comment:

  1. *Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, and Brian Westbrook -- the consensus top point guards in the NBA -- all have one thing in common: they aren't white. Similarly, the four point guards leading their final four teams were all black.

    **This was both the most frustrating and entertaining game I've seen in ages. With any reasonable officiating crew Jimmer would've scored 60 in that game, making my brother who predicted such before the contest a prophet. Oh well.