James Cuyler cannot sit down.
Instead, he is pacing up and down a basketball court sideline inside Fort Edward High School, while 10 fourth graders battle for supremacy on a Saturday afternoon.
On Cuyler’s side of mid-court is Team Fredette, a new AAU basketball program founded by Al Fredette, the father of Glens Falls legend Jimmer Fredette, and TJ Fredette, Jimmer’s older brother.
Team Fredette is only in its first year as a fully functioning program, but with the guidance of Al, the work ethic of TJ and the passion of James, Team Fredette already rosters about 130 kids, playing on both girls and boys teams grades third through 12th.
James coaches the fourth-grade version of Team Fredette, and these youngsters are already making a name for themselves throughout AAU circles. Highlighted by three Zero Gravity tournament championships already for the boys’ fourth-grade group and a recent Zero Gravity championship by the top fifth-grade girls’ team, Team Fredette is quickly becoming a popular basketball program in the Adirondack region.
“Our mission is to teach kids about character,” Al Fredette said. “That is what I noticed in James, his character, and that is what we are looking for in our coaches.”
“We want to create great humans and build respectable men and women through this,” Cuyler said. “If these kids want to go to college, then we want to help them do that.”
Al Fredette has been coaching hoops for 50 years and has seen it all. He felt there was a void to fill for youth basketball in this area, so he sought out quality coaches who not only knew the game but more importantly made teaching kids the importance of integrity and teamwork the focal point of competition.
Through TJ, Al was introduced to Cuyler and the veteran coach knew immediately he was made for this.
Standing 6 foot 1, his hands engulf yours the moment you shake. It’s easy to tell he has a basketball background. But even more noticeable is his love for coaching youth, a craft he has been honing for the past six years. In the winter, Cuyler coaches basketball at Fort Edward and then dedicates his springs and summers to the kids.
His smile shines talking about Team Fredette or when he speaks to his group of elementary athletes.
Sure, it helps that his son plays on the fourth-grade team but his passion and love for all his players radiates. If it wasn’t for the fact his boy has his looks, it would be tough to tell which kid was his.
While still fulfilling his responsibilities as a dad, Cuyler somehow finds time and energy to give his undivided attention to any player within Team Fredette.
He is demanding but never pushy. Passionate yet balanced, and serves as a father figure to the youth within his program. That is clear by observing the way each kid literally looks up at him when he speaks and smiles when he engages.
Simply, Cuyler is a young black man serving as a stand-up father to his son while bettering the lives of youth basketball players throughout the Adirondack region.
Cuyler has quickly become the face of this new AAU program, despite not sharing the famous surname, which is a testament to his work ethic, authenticity and engulfing passion for youth basketball.
“He is so knowledgeable, keeps his cool and knows how to communicate at the kids’ level,” Angela Cugini-Girard, whose son plays for Team Fredette said. “Everything he says, he says it in a way to make sure the kids are getting better. It is not only the coaching, but it is also the things he does outside of the program. He has taken a personal interest in both my sons and is always trying to find ways to better them.
He always goes above and beyond because his goal is to give every kid in the Glens Falls area the opportunity to better themselves through basketball if they want it.”
It’s about practice
Every Friday night, Team Fredette offers what they call “Skills and Drills” night at Fort Edward High School. The event is open for all players.
Al Fredette noticed within many AAU teams there was never time for players to work on their fundamentals.
Most programs hold one or two practices a week and focus on plays and execution, leaving no time for individual skill development.
It’s a Friday night in May and Fort Edward’s gyms are packed. So many kids show up that the girls teams decide they want to go practice on their own court down the hall.
With half-court as a natural divider, Cuyler takes the fourth graders to one side while the ninth grade team, coached by Brian Travis, take the other end.
A trainer and basketball junkie himself, Travis was a crucial reason Joseph Girard III reached new athletic heights this year as the two trained together regularly at Saratoga Peak Performance.
Travis puts his ninth graders through a high-intensity practice start to end. Cuyler does the same on the other court, but at a pace conditioned for fourth graders. Somehow, he has found the perfect blend of intensity and sympathy to maximize his fourth grader’s passion for basketball.
“The whole idea is to get these kids to understand that these are drills that will help you get better,” Al Fredette said. “At the same time, basketball is a game. If you aren’t having fun here then we are not doing our job.”
When the little kids finish a Cuyler drill, many stare in awe of the ninth graders, knowing and wishing that will be them one day.
As practice concludes both sides get one big breakdown and the kids run to their watching parents in glee.
Basketball is fun with Team Fredette. And at the same time, all involved honed skills they’ll need for an upcoming weekend tournament.
On the court
During a recent weekend tournament, Team Fredette trailed City Rocks by 12 points at halftime. Cuyler urges his fourth graders to stay calm. They’ve made comebacks before and could do it again.
He was right.
Immediately in the second half, Team Fredette cut its deficit in half. Cuyler once again couldn’t sit down. He clapped and yelled, forcing energy into his entire team.
Down the stretch, there were six lead changes in the final three minutes. Neither team ever folded and the fundamentals Team Fredette worked on the other night manifested.
Whether it was backdoor cuts, sound man-to-man defense, rebounding or shot making, these youngsters were never out of control, rather smooth behind their years.
Cuyler and Team Fredette lost by a few buckets but that wasn’t the point. Kids hugged each other after the game and spirits were high. Cuyler always identifies a silver lining, no matter the outcome.
“It didn’t end how we wanted and they are disappointed, but there is something to learn here,” Cuyler said. “And that is my job, to deliver that to these kids.”
Fourth graders are going to dream about being the next Jimmer Fredette.
That is the beauty of innocence.
However, parents know it is unlikely their child will develop Fredette-like skills and reach the NBA. But what the next generation can do is carry themselves with the integrity and selflessness Jimmer displayed on basketball courts around the world.
As Team Fredette grows, Cuyler will continue to echo and live the Fredette mantra.
Visiting the program’s website reveals there is already a Utah branch to go with the new Adirondack branch and its U17 program is respected nationwide.
Around here, Team Fredette is focused on building from the ground up and providing affordable and quality AAU basketball to the Adirondack region.
As long as the kids keep smiling, Team Fredette will thrive. And under Cuyler, there are no signs of such joy ever fading within any basketball program he leads.
“The work James has put into this program should not be overlooked,” said Steve Girard, whose son plays for Team Fredette said. “If a varsity program around here gave him an opportunity at a head coaching job, I’d love to see what he’d be able to do. Team Fredette is where it is because of James Cuyler.”
Follow sportswriter Ellis Williams on Twitter: @BookofEllis.