Panathinaikos OPAP Athens shooting star Jimmer Fredette was never really given much choice about playing basketball. From as early as he can remember, the New York native was encouraged – almost forced – to start playing the game by an extremely influential figure in his life: his older brother, T.J.
“Basketball was T.J.’s first love, he has always loved basketball,” Fredette recalled with a smile. “We had a hoop outside the house, and I’d always see him come home from school and immediately go outside to play. He was a great point guard, a really good dribbler and passer, very quick, so he was always out there working on his ball-handling or playing with his friends. And I was always out there with him, whether I was watching on the sidelines and just hanging out, or joining in and playing against him. Those are my first memories of basketball.”
You might think that T.J. would have attempted to shake off the unwanted attention of his little brother, especially considering the seven-year age gap between them, but Jimmer insists that was never the case at all.
“He was always great with me, he let me play,” Jimmer said. “I don’t think he saw me as the annoying little brother! He wanted me to play with him and his friends, and I’ll always be grateful to him for that.
“I started making these shots from a long distance from a young age because I had to!”
“I must have been only five or six years old when I started playing with T.J. and his friends. They were 12 or 13 so they were obviously much bigger than me and at first we had a rule that if I shot the ball from a certain distance, they weren’t allowed to block the shot. So I started making these shots from a long distance from a young age because I had to! And eventually they were like: ‘Okay, you make these shots too much! Now you’ve gotta start playing real basketball with us!’
“So then I learned how to get to the basket and get away from defenders who were much bigger than me and that has definitely helped me throughout my career. Even now, I’m still playing against much bigger guys – most of the people who guard me are longer than me and really athletic, so it comes in very handy knowing how to get my shot off in any situation. It’s now an instinct thing; it’s second nature for me. I just go out there and figure it out on the go, which all started by playing with T.J. and his friends. That made me get tough and learn how to play against good competition at a really young age.”
Shortly before he moved away to college and then life as a professional basketball player, Fredette also shared with his brother another important phase of his development by playing a few games in an extremely unusual environment…prison!
“Our next-door neighbor’s cousin was the recreation manager at a couple of prisons in New York,” Jimmer explained. “He thought it would be a nice idea for the guys who were on good behavior to play some pick-up against my brother and his friends. So we went in three or four times as a team and played against their guys. I was 16 or 17, which meant I had to go in with my dad with special permission because I was too young to go on my own.
“We walked in and on the four corners of the court there were security guards with guns, making sure everything was okay.”
“Obviously it was a little intimidating at first; we walked in and on the four corners of the court there were security guards with guns, making sure everything was okay. We definitely weren’t going to argue too much against a call! They had a gym with some small stands, so the players would bring in their mates to watch, support them and bet on the games. Of course, at first they didn’t like us, but then they saw how good we were and they started to bet on us to win against their mates!
“The inmates were always great, there were never any problems. Sure, they would talk trash, especially if they were betting against us, and I didn’t give too much trash talk back! But that helped me learn how to block everything out and just go out there and play. Once the game started, it was just normal basketball. It was a fun experience and definitely not something that many people get to do.”
Although they have moved their separate ways, Jimmer and T.J. have stayed close throughout their lives and the elder brother remains heavily involved in the game.
“T.J. played at a junior college for two years and did well there, and now he’s helping run an athletic program and doing basketball training for young kids,” Fredette said. “He’s coaching, teaching and training, doing really well. He still loves the game and we always talk about basketball a lot.”
Naturally, the Fredette family are looking forward to holding a reunion in Athens, with plans being hatched for T.J. to visit the Greek capital before too long. “He’ll definitely come out here at some point soon, but we don’t know when yet. Last season he came out to China and spent about a month with me out there, so now he really wants to come out here and see Athens. He has heard a lot about European basketball and he was excited about me coming here – in fact, he never said it directly but I think he was secretly hoping I would come to Europe because he wanted me to experience the league here, playing big games in front of passionate fans. It’s a great brand of basketball, so he’s happy I’m here.”
We’re happy about that too, so here’s a message to T.J. from fans of European basketball: thanks for helping to make Jimmer the player that he is today!