The Great Slight Hope

The Great Slight Hope
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There’s a slight 3.4% chance that the 500,000 or so American high schoolers will play college basketball upon graduation. That tiny proportion of players has an even more slight 1.2% chance of making it to the NBA draft. But fear not you student athletes, reading this while facing the daunting prospect of being without athletics for the first time in your life. Vote for Bernie by all means, but control your own career revolution once cap and gown have been tossed. A comparatively massive 11.6% of college players in 2014 turned pro and kept the dream alive in some form from the D League to any number of international associations. Your great slight hope lives on.

Given time, a decent agent and some good fortune, a livable new home will be found. A whole world of food, culture, language and learning awaits. Your rookie season will hit you like a wall come this time next year. When the third tier playoffs in the back of beyond federation are ramping up towards May, your body will be crying out for its habitual rest. There’s a slight chance you’ll be retained by the same team but a greater chance of a second country in two years as the rinse and repeat cycle will click into gear well into your thirties, if you're lucky. The slight chance of a new passport or citizenship of Wherever-land will increase your value and staying power to fight off the next 11.6% of graduates flooding the market to take your job. Years become careers in sports. Right until it’s time to hang them up and return to sender. To face the same disheartening decision that you ran from in 2016 when a nine to five comes a calling. Take the job by all means, safe in the knowledge for the first time you are ahead of an NBA draftee who will be wrestling with the same decision you made a decade before.

Jimmer Fredette had the same great slight hope. Unnoticed in high school with only a handful of division one offers, the soon to be BYU standout fought his way to a scoring title as a senior and captured a player of the year award to go with the Wooden award. Not forgetting the Naismith award and Oscar Robertson trophy that propelled him from the scouting shadows to the tenth pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. Ah, the one percent. How sweet it is. Jimmer-mania was about to hit the NBA. The Kings #7 jersey helped fuel a 500% increase in merchandise that year. His first game as a rookie saw him score a team high 21 points in the preseason and in 2012 he recorded his first NBA start. A career high 24 points followed on February 12th 2014. Two weeks later his contract was bought out.

Just like that. In the blink of an eye he was knock to the deck. But despite the roundhouse right to the chin, Fredette made it off the canvas and onto the Bulls roster by that very weekend. A sucker punch to the gut followed as the Bulls opted not to pick up an option for the following year. The plucky pugilist stuck with the Pelicans for a year and parlayed a season high performance against the Spurs into a camp invite in San Antonio. Which is all that turned out to be. Despite a nine day affair with the on again, off again Pelicans when he was TKO'd from of their roster, there was only one option remaining – The D League.

The moral of this story isn’t Fredette’s ability to get knocked down or willingness to get up again. Salaries and 5* treatment in the Association will help ease those pains. His great slight hope is more slender now than ever. The ten day contract with the Knicks was nothing but a try out. In his last three Westchester games before the call up, he’s shooting 27% in two losses. In the “What have you done for me lately” nature of the NBA, that somewhat sullies his 28 game averages of 22ppg on 48% shooting. Having seen his game against the 905 last week, one witnesses the work ethic and unshakable confidence needed at the next level, despite the 4/21 shooting night and the o-for from downtown in eight tries. But the same could be said of Sim Bhullar at the other end of the court and the weight class. The 7'5" 360lbs center looked every bit the dominant force with a game high plus minus and a double double of 17 and 11. You can over look his flaws the same way as Fredette's only from the other end of the spectrum. Sim's inability to guard the screen roll ball handler is as harmful as Fredette's on the other end of the same play. A staple of today's NBA game. Yet, a single match is a mere one dimension in a world of three. The next single match witnessed for the Knicks proper saw a twenty something point blow out to the Raptors of all teams, which gifted Fredette 1:49 of garbage time. Just like before the microcosm of the best and worst was on display. His first touch, a wide open three that hit the bottom of the net to the crowd's delight, two thirds of which stuck around just for that moment. However, all three points were given back on the next play with Fredette's inability to navigate a screen roll to offer up an and one on a dribble drive. With a defensive rebound sailing over his head gifted the Canadians another possession after an empty Knicks trip on offense. The game's last moments should have been dribbled out, but Fredette's misguided cross-over turned the ball back over to allow Toronto to dribble the win out.

Despite the debut, Fredette's game looked to be well-suited to a three-sided triangle offense of the Knicks and there's no better staff to help his integration. The Armstrongs, Paxons and Hodges of the world all carved out long careers with heady play and solid jumpers. Two hallmarks of Fredette's game. The wrinkle may be that the upstate Knicks haven't been running as much of the triangle as they should or could have.  Which made Fredette's countdown clock of ten days to learn the flow and his new teammates fly by faster than your standard NBA team who lean on more traditional forms of attack. But he’s seen this movie before and with a more Oscar-worthy cast in San Antonio. The question remains, when and where does Fredette continue his fight at a level with which he can compete?

It can’t be the money. The five-figure purse for training camp invites and ten-day contracts will more than offset the $25,000 D-League season salary. But it’s a pittance compared to what leading American players make internationally. Undrafted Boston College standout Tyrese Rice is the highest paid American in Europe. Currently in the midst of a three-year deal with Khimki in Russia that pays him $2,400,000 a year and is as much to do with his new Montenegrin citizenship as it is his game. It's the same club that employs former Knick Alexey Shved to the tune of almost $3,500,000 a year, doubtless before tax and with a house and car thrown in for good measure. In fact, the top ten earners across the pond all have fleeting NBA experiences, including Fredette's draft mate Jan Vesely.

It can’t be the accolades. They mean next to nothing now. For Fredette's lottery position in a relatively weak crop of players had an unusually high number of nine international players who made their way onto stage that night in New Jersey. Currently, only four first rounders have made an All Star Game (Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler). It would have sounded so much better if Kemba Walker had made it instead. None of the eight players involved in his draft day deal are still with their teams, so even that was a disaster. The College Player of the Year awards maybe? As nice as that was, Frank Kaminsky and Doug McDermott both swept the board since Jimmer graduated. Their NBA career numbers to date eerily mirror Fredette's.

It can’t be the possibility. Ten day contract call ups in the NBA since 2010 have an 8% chance of sticking with the team into the third week. College players have a better statistical chance of making the NBA than a ten day contract player has of lasting two years in the league with only 1% successfully doing so. But the slightest of hope is also the cruelest, Fredette doubtless the past week or so telling himself that Kurt Rambis, his new head coach started his long NBA career on a ten day contract.

It can’t be the limitations. Plenty of 6’2” shooting guards have overcome being undersized to outperform at their new point position. Countless slow-footed players have found a home through a determined effort and smarts to play the position rather than the player. Many turnover-prone players have slowed their roll and found a system to suit their game. Ample numbers of scorers at every level have shot their way through slumps and out the other end.

It can’t be the fame. International Hoops is awash with American stars from the infamous Stephan Marbury in China to the famous Euro Expat Tyus Edney. After six years in China, the former Knick and Starbury brand ambassador will be remembered by the majority for his Chinese postage stamp and new museum rather than his faltering NBA career and clothing line. The same for NCAA Champion and Kings Draftee Edney who lived a life of celebrity similar to Michael Jordan, only in Europe. As fans wondered how someone so small and slight could rewrite the tale of the tape in a big man's world.

As much as the hometown boy, done good script is a fascinating one, the more realistic option for Fredette, like so many others should be the path abroad. His skill set on the court and demeanor with fans are all better suited to the International game. Someone with so many awards deserves to be punching at his own weight once again. Actors all have their time as waiters before hitting the big screen. But Fredette's time to wait should be over as this is his last shot on the Great White Way. His story more likely to be told at Cannes than Hollywood. His name, after all, gives way to French ancestry, instantly increasing his continental value to potential teams of course.

So “Bonne Chance Monsieur Fredette”. Or should I say “Kalí Yýchi Kyrios Antetokounmpo” to his Westchester teammate he left behind for a week or so but who has the same decision to make. Their stories are the same, the plot slightly different but the ending is theirs to write. There’s a world of opportunity regardless of how slight the hope. Just take the right shot.