PROVO, Utah — Reminders of Jimmermania are everywhere, from billboards near Brigham Young’s campus to racehorses named after last year’s national college player of the year. His successor, Matt Carlino, even had to endure chants of “You’re Not Jimmer” at a recent Gonzaga game.
Yet Carlino, who guarded Jimmer Fredette daily in practice last season after transferring from UCLA, appears more honored and motivated than frustrated by it all. He’s also ready for his own March madness when BYU opens play Friday in the West Coast Conference tournament.
“I obviously want to be my own person and my own player, but it’s awesome to be compared to Jimmer because of how great of a player he is,” said Carlino, who easily could pass for Fredette’s little brother with his dark hair and clean-cut style. “I can’t take it negatively, even when Gonzaga was doing the ‘You’re Not Jimmer chant.’ It was kind of, ‘Well, hopefully one day I can work to shut up that crowd there.’ ”
He may get a chance sooner rather than later if the West Coast Conference tournament plays out the right way.
On Friday night, No. 3 seed BYU faces the winner of Thursday’s San Diego-Pepperdine game, and if successful would meet No. 2 seed Gonzaga — for the third time this season — in Saturday’s semifinals.
Then again, it wouldn’t quite be The Kennel at Gonzaga as BYU fans are expected to flood the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas for the tourney.
“I don’t know if they’ll be able to muster up that chant against our fans,” said Carlino, who struggled through a 7-of-23 shooting night in the Feb. 23 loss. “We’re not looking past anybody, but the chance to play Gonzaga … that’d be a matchup I’d really look forward to and so would the rest of our team.”
Despite the chants, Carlino actually has put up better numbers than Fredette did as a freshman.
Though Fredette set New York state point-scoring records in high school, he didn’t start a single game as a BYU freshman. He did play in all 35 games in 2007-08, averaging 7.0 points and 1.7 assists in 18.5 minutes while helping BYU to a 27-8 record. He finished his freshman season with 244 points, shooting 33.6 percent from 3-point range (40.7 percent overall).
Carlino has started 20 of 21 games, and finished the regular season with 272 points despite sitting out the first 10 games because of transfer rules. He’s averaging 13.0 points and 4.7 assists in 27.5 minutes for BYU (24-7), and shooting 33.6 percent from beyond the arc (41.9 percent overall).
While Fredette was hardly the average college player, Carlino is not the average college freshman, taking a circuitous route before arriving at BYU in time to start school in January 2011.
The Scottsdale, Ariz., native had intended to play at Indiana then graduated high school early to attend UCLA only to decide BYU was a better fit.
Last season, he had to face players like Fredette — but only in practice. And while he saw Fredette mobbed for autographs everywhere he went, and soaked in the madness that came with BYU’s run to the NCAA round of 16, there was no pressure to perform.
“I really got to learn in a protected way,” Carlino said. “It benefited me so much to be able to sit out last year. It was really difficult, but looking back now, it was definitely a blessing.”
BYU coach Dave Rose said Carlino continues to get better.
“With young players, their challenge is to be consistent night in and night out, and Matt has really gained the respect of his teammates as far as his ability to lead this team,” Rose said. “He puts so much pressure on himself to score and this team doesn’t really need him to score every night. What we really need him to do is run our team. It’s what he’s really gotten better at.”
In Saturday’s win over Portland, Carlino scored just eight points but handed out eight assists.
The previous game against Gonzaga, he had 18 points, but only three assists in the loss.
A week earlier, he dropped 30 on San Francisco, including the game-winner, to put him in the same company as Danny Ainge as a freshman. It was the most points by a BYU player since Fredette dumped 32 on Florida in an overtime loss in the NCAAs a year ago.
While Fredette set a school record with 52 points last season in a Mountain West Conference tournament game against New Mexico, Carlino has never put up 50 against anyone, at any level.
There are other differences between the two. For starters, Carlino is a lefty, and not Mormon. Though he’s not from New York like Fredette, he is a diehard Yankees fan and isn’t afraid to proclaim Mariano Rivera the greatest baseball player of all time.
There are plenty of similarities. Both can shoot the ball quickly, off the dribble and off high screens. And both are fearless.
“There are times his confidence is really high,” senior forward Noah Hartsock said of Carlino, who like Fredette stands 6-foot-2. “He’s one of those players not afraid to take over a game.”
Hartsock also believes Carlino already is a better passer than Fredette, who now plays for the Sacramento Kings.
And there’s no question both love the spotlight.
“I always thrived on that, high-pressure games,” said Carlino. “That’s why you play. You don’t play to play mediocre teams or not be on the stage.”
Now that the clock has ticked to March, Carlino said the excitement level has taken a Jimmer jump.
“I’ve been watching March Madness my whole life,” Carlino said. “Now that it’s coming down to crunch time, going into the conference tournament, I’m just really excited to be a part of it. It’s going to be an amazing experience.”