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Las Vegas • Jimmer Fredette made his Denver Nuggets NBA summer league debut on Friday night. And just like it was five years ago, one of the very best players in BYU history is still part-basketball player, part-folk hero.

The buzz in Thomas and Mack Center was palpable whenever Fredette touched the ball against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He came close to a standing ovation in the second quarter when he hit a short runner in the lane.

The arena got louder Saturday, when Fredette scored 26 points in a 106-62 win over Memphis.

This is the part of the Jimmer Fredette story that will seemingly never end. The shooting guard has his own brand, his own fan base, no matter how much of a crossroads his career is at.

This is the part of the Jimmer Fredette story his younger Nuggets teammates willingly take part in.

"I mean, it's Jimmer," Denver shooting guard Gary Harris said. "It's Jimmer Fredette. I grew up watching him play."

And this is where the story starts to differ from five years ago. Then, Fredette was the anointed savior of the Sacramento Kings, the lottery pick, the point guard who was supposed to light up the scoreboard, put fans in the seats and boost jersey sales in the team store.

Now, Fredette is barely hanging on to an NBA dream itching to pass him up. He's now 27 years old, playing in summer league. He wasn't a starter on Friday night, playing behind Harris, Emmanuel Mudiay and new lotto pick/franchise savior Jamal Murray.

Five years ago, Fredette's NBA career cup overflowed with promise. Now, after a stint in the NBA's D-League, nothing is promised beyond the 10 days the Nuggets will play in Vegas. If it seems like quite the free fall, well — it is. But Fredette has shown resilience through his basketball career. This is just another example.

"It's tough for a lot of guys that are in the position I am, to get back into the league this way," Fredette said. "I just have to continue to work and keep my head down. I have to get in front of the guys, the coaches and the general managers and play well and hope to have a good time."

The smile on Fredette's face has never faded. In 2011, when he was arguably the best college basketball player in the country, the smile was there. On Friday night, through the uncertainty of what's next, the smile was there.

Fredette has always been at peace with himself, confident in his ability. That's part of why he became so good in the first place. And that confidence helps him answer the questions: Why continue to play in the states? Why continue to grind his way back into the league for menial pay? Why not go overseas and make very good money?

As an NBA player, even if he got back into the league, Fredette is destined to be a backup. Internationally, with his shooting and scoring ability, Fredette has the potential to be a star with significant earning power. Take former Utah State standout Jaycee Carroll, for example. He was a borderline NBA talent, but has become one of the most recognizable international players in the world. As for money, Carroll, who plays for Real Madrid, makes close to an NBA salary.

It is by no means a stretch to think Fredette can do the same.

But Fredette's answer is simple. An overseas career will always be there, Fredette said. And if he still has an opportunity to play in the NBA, he feels he owes it to himself to exhaust every opportunity.

"I have a feeling the NBA will tell me when it's time," Fredette said.

The Las Vegas summer league is filled with guys in Fredette's shoes. Even summer league roster spots don't come a dime a dozen. And on Friday night, Fredette showed that he can still play the game. He got into the lane with relative ease. He clearly knows scoring angles, how to get his shot off against bigger players, how to run pick-and-roll offense, how to play off his teammates.

As a scorer, Fredette can still get it done. But that's never been his issue at the NBA level. Can he defend? Can he be a spot-up shooter? Those are his questions. And like many this week, he's willing to do whatever it takes to answer them and get back into the NBA.

Fredette accurately said on Friday night that he's auditioning for 30 teams, and not just for the Denver Nuggets. He had a very good year with the New York Knicks' D-League team and earned himself a 10-day contract.

Now, it's one step at a time. Fredette wants to play well enough to earn a training camp invite. Then he wants to play well enough to try and earn a roster spot. His NBA life is literally day-to-day. At the same time, Fredette is as confident as ever in his ability.

And if it doesn't work out, he has an appealing option.

"People in our position have to love basketball to go through this type of grind," former Weber State star Davion Berry said. "The path to the league isn't easy and it never was easy growing up. So why take the easy path now?"

Twitter: @tjonessltrib —

Jimmer in the NBA

• Jimmer Fredette has played for four NBA franchises, most recently the New York Knicks.

• Fredette is one of three former BYU players participating in summer league. Kyle Collinsworth (Dallas) and Brandon Davies (Detroit) are the other two.

• Fredette has averaged six points in 233 NBA games. His best year came as a rookie with Sacramento when he averaged 7.6 points in 18 minutes a night.