Jimmermania begins as Kings open camp

Jimmer Fredette shook fellow rookie Isaiah Thomas with a crossover dribble, spun back to his left and put up a pump fake that sent the defender tumbling to the ground. Fredette looked down at Thomas and swished a shot from above the free throw line that drew cheers from teammates.

Maybe the first time an NBA player got "Jimmered."

Probably not the last.

The Sacramento Kings opened training camp Saturday with the former BYU sensation as the star attraction, injecting some life into a franchise that seemed destined to move south to Anaheim last summer and desperately needs to build momentum for a new arena by March to avoid relocation. While Fredette still has to improve defensively, he’s expected to team with Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton this season to form a powerful backcourt rotation.

”I definitely respect these guys as basketball players and as people,” Fredette said. ”And if you show them that respect, they’ll respect you right back. That’s what it’s all about. So, I’m continuing to gain that respect, hopefully, and just try to make the right decisions and be a good person.”

Fredette’s first day also had its share of bumps.

The point guard often looked lost defensively, missed shots and also piled up a few turnovers. Evans, the 2009-10 rookie of the year, blew past him on several occasions for easy buckets and his size and strength gave Fredette fits on the glass.

Treating him no differently than any other rookie, Kings players also tagged Fredette with several chores, including handing out bottles of water and Gatorade while they finished stretching. He was the only rookie to clean the floor.

”I have to pick it up or it’s $100 a bottle,” Fredette said, chuckling. ”Not taking any chances.”

Though the Kings believe the 6-foot-2 Fredette will work well in a backcourt with Evans and Thornton, the rotation is still unclear. The 6-foot-6 Evans has the ability to match up with bigger guards defensively, easing the load on Fredette, but Thornton’s scoring ability might trump them all.

Thornton, who re-signed with Sacramento on a four-year deal worth at least $31 million, averaged 21.3 points in 23 games for the Kings after being acquired in a midseason trade with New Orleans. Evans and Thornton played together during the scrimmage portion of the nearly three-hour practice, with Fredette and Evans matched up against each other at the point.

Clearly, Evans is more seasoned at the moment.

”He’s been playing this game for a long time. I told him, ‘Don’t change up nothing now,”’ Evans said. ”One time I backed up off him, he was probably at the hash mark. Coach told him, ‘Shoot it.’ He shot it. I told him don’t change your game. He did it in college. I don’t see why he can’t do it in the NBA.”

Fredette transition to the pros offers a scintillating subplot this season for a franchise that has so often been in national news for other reasons.

The Kings came oh-so close to moving the franchise to Anaheim this summer. Instead, the NBA and Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof decided to give Sacramento until March to approve a plan to help finance a new arena — or else.

While that distraction will loom large this season, so will Fredette’s first go-around.

Fredette won The Associated Press’ Player of the Year award after leading the nation in scoring at 28.5 points per game and guiding BYU to one of its best seasons. Big performances in big games had NBA stars tweeting his name, President Obama mentioning him while filling out his bracket and BYU faithful in a frenzy that reached beyond the quiet Provo, Utah, campus.

Already, Sacramento has embraced Jimmermania.

”Jimmer’s my dude,” second-year forward DeMarcus Cousins said. ”I’m trying to get Jimmer to move in with me.”

Hundreds of fans also greeted Fredette’s arrival at the airport over the summer after the Kings acquired him in a draft-day trade with Milwaukee as the No. 10 overall pick. A few thousand showed for a pep rally soon after and a half-dozen or so television cameramen — large for a practice at the small-market Kings facility — all scurried for a close-up on Fredette when the doors opened for practice.

”I got more used to it toward the middle to the end of the season. There were a lot more people wanting interviews, it felt like more of an NBA atmosphere with all the media attention I was getting,” Fredette said. ”I think that will help with the transition to the NBA. Now I just need to transition playing wise.”

Fredette spent the NBA lockout getting in shape at BYU and working out with his uncle, Lee Taft, who has been his trainer since he was five years old. He also found housing in the Sacramento area and got engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Whitney Wonnacott, a BYU cheerleader.

”It was the best summer I’ve had in my life,” Fredette said.

Carrying that over through the winter and into late spring might be tougher.

Sacramento finished 24-58 and missed the playoffs for the fifth straight year, although a late-season surge behind a healthy Evans provided hope that maybe the Kings aren’t that far off from making the postseason again.

Kings coach Paul Westphal expects Fredette’s game to mesh well with so many talented ballhandlers on the roster, taking some pressure and responsibilities away from the rookie. Fredette is likely to come off the bench and backup Evans at point guard — while also playing on the floor together, at times — early in the season until Fredette finds his footing.

”I think Jimmer’s presence, along with John Salmons and Marcus Thornton, all those guys can handle, shoot and pass,” Westphal said. ”And the more players we have like that, the better it is for Tyreke and for all of our players.”

Let Jimmermania begin.