After Jimmer left for his freshman year at Provo, TJ's condition got worse. He and his parents eventually found a neurologist who diagnosed damage to TJ's vestibular system—which governs balance and spatial orientation—perhaps related to the anesthesia for the ACL surgery. He learned exercises to help rehab the damage, but things got worse before they got better. TJ spent the better part of a year on his parents' couch, so sick and depressed that "I feared he would do something crazy to end the agony," Kay wrote in an e-mail.
There was one light in the darkness: Jimmer. "The only thing that kept me going was his games; they were everything to me," says TJ. Says Kay, "I don't know what would have happened if TJ didn't have that to hold on to. Jimmer was saving TJ's life, and he didn't even realize it."
Almost a continent away, Jimmer had little idea what his brother was going through. He didn't know the agonizing effort it took for TJ to show up in Provo for BYU's matchup with sixth-ranked Wake Forest during Jimmer's sophomore year. After suffering through the long flight, TJ sat through the game, keeping his head down during timeouts to fend off the dizziness. "But when the game was on, I was so engaged I didn't feel anything else," he says. BYU lost 94--87, but Jimmer had a breakout game, delivering 23 points and nine assists against a team that included future lottery pick Jeff Teague. His legend was launched.
That game was a turning point for TJ, too. Within a few months his daily rehab started to have a positive effect, and the darkness that had enveloped him for nearly three years began to recede. "I'll probably always have problems with the dizziness, but at least I'm able to live a normal life now," says TJ.
"Even today I probably don't know half of what TJ went through," says Jimmer. "I am so happy that my playing helped him. Obviously he has helped me a lot in my life, so to return the favor feels great."
For TJ the payback keeps coming. His rap career, which he started as a hobby in high school, is finally starting to take off, in part because of the exposure Jimmer's success has provided. But Jimmer remains his favorite entertainment. "I get so much joy out of his success," he says.
TJ, who still lives in Glens Falls but travels frequently to Utah along with Kay and Al, fully expects that success to continue deep into March. Though Fredette takes 34.8% of the Cougars' shots, BYU is hardly a one-man team. When TCU double- and triple-teamed Fredette all night, holding him to 21 points on 6-for-16 shooting, the four other Cougars starters finished in double figures. And for all his shot-making abilities, Fredette also leads BYU in assists, averaging 4.4 through Sunday. "When it's time to get that win, he makes all kinds of plays besides putting the ball in the basket," says BYU junior swingman Charles Abouo.
Yet his suitability for the NBA remains a hotly debated question. "From what I hear, there is a group of teams that really believe in Jimmer," says Rose. "One of those teams is going to pick him. Then a lot of people will see what he's really capable of doing."
Doubters abound, but that has never fazed Fredette. "I've never worried when people have said, 'You can't do it,' but it does fuel me," he says. In other words, Jimmermania may just be getting started.
Now on SI.com