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Saint Louis has its backcourt of the present and future with a pair of freshmen

In their ninth game together, freshmen Yuri Collins and Gibson Jimerson helped the Billikens make a school-record 17 threes. But they’re just getting started.

Saint Louis freshman guard Gibson Jimerson takes a transition three during the second half of the Billikens’ 86-62 win over Tulane in the Air Force Reserve Jerry Colangelo Classic, held at Talking Stick Arena on Dec. 8.
Kyle Cajero, Mid-Major Madness

PHOENIX — Earlier this year, mid-major legend Jimmer Fredette signed a two-year deal with the Phoenix Suns.

Months later, fans at the Talking Stick Resort Arena rooted for a different Jimmer: Saint Louis freshman Gibson Jimerson, who scored 22 points in the Billikens’ 86-62 win over Tulane in the Air Force Reserve Jerry Colangelo Classic on Dec. 8.

Led by the new Jimmer’s 8-15 shooting, Saint Louis jumped out to a 20-9 lead and didn’t look back. By the time the dust settled, Hasahn French and Jordan Goodwin finished with double-doubles, Demarius Jacobs made a career-high six threes and the team made a school-record 17 threes — eight of which came from freshmen.

Freshmen Jimerson and Yuri Collins have given the Billikens not only their backcourt of the future, but also two of the Atlantic 10’s best guards regardless of age. Right now, Collins leads all freshman guards with 5.8 APG and is in the top 70 nationally with a 33.2% assist rate, per KenPom. His roommate Jimerson is an archetypal shooting guard that averages 11.3 PPG off the bench, has two 20-plus point outings under his belt and has a team-high 45.3 3FG%.

“He’s a baby Klay Thompson,” Saint Louis junior guard Jordan Goodwin said of Jimerson. “I get mad when he pass[es] up those shots — especially after he hits one — but Gibs is gonna be Gibs. I’ve never seen him shoot the ball bad yet.”

Even though the jury is still out on whether or not Jimerson is more like Thompson or Fredette, the 6’5 shooting guard is well on his way to a standout career. Jimerson had an all-around showing during Sunday afternoon’s win: On offense, Jimerson sparked Saint Louis’s huge first-half by hitting three of his first five threes; then on defense, he and Collins spearheaded the Billikens’ full-court press that put the clamps on the Tulane’s offense down the stretch.

“The last couple games we got off to a lot of slow starts, and today I think on the defensive end, we really picked it up,” Jimerson said. “We were aggressive, we were getting a lot of stops... We knew [Tulane] had four main guys — transfers that had obviously played for big-time schools. So for us, it was all one-on-one and ball-screen defense. We were able to switch a lot of stuff and take advantage of certain matchups.”

The duo’s performances were nothing new. During Saint Louis’s 8-1 start to the season, the duo has helped Saint Louis rebound from losing senior starters Tramaine Isabell and DJ Foreman and then some. Collins has started in the past five games, and currently averages 5.1 PPG and 5.8 APG, while Jimerson has almost singlehandedly helped a team that shot 30.4% from three a season ago improve on that number. Plus, both guards’ skillsets compliment one another.

“I’ve never played with a point guard who’s as pass-oriented as [Collins],” Jimerson said. “He does a great job finding me. I love him and I can’t wait for the next couple years, for sure.”

The freshman roommates’ chemistry was on display against Tulane, as Collins found Jimerson on all three of his first-half threes. Sometimes, Jimerson got open off of a baseline cut or in Saint Louis head coach Travis Ford’s myriad of horn sets. Other times, Collins’s assists came from simply beating Tulane’s matchup zone by passing out of double-teams.

Fittingly, Jimerson returned the favor: His lone assist was to Collins, who nailed a three that was a foot beyond the NBA three-point line. And to his credit, Collins shot well against Tulane too: After taking only six threes before Sunday, the pass-first guard went 2-2 from beyond the arc to go along his six assists — all while going against Tulane’s bigger, more experienced backcourt.

Tulane simply didn’t have an answer for either freshman.

“With Yuri, it’s like playing with a singer with how poised he is and the pace he plays with,” Goodwin said. “I’ve learned a lot from him.”

But one of the most valuable parts about Collins and Jimerson doesn’t make the box score: With Collins running the point, Goodwin can play off-the-ball, burn opponents along the baseline and continue cleaning up the glass. Rebounding has always been Goodwin’s calling card — he’s averaged at least seven rebounds per game every year — but he’s been on another level. The junior currently averages 11.0 RPG to go along with 15.4 PPG, making him on pace to be one of 12 guards to average 10 or more rebounds in a season since 1992. For the record, Goodwin is 6’3.

By moving Goodwin off the ball, the Billikens also have two prolific passers on the floor — something that will come in handy against Dayton and Richmond, two of the A10’s most prolific passing teams. On Sunday against Tulane, Saint Louis had one of its most balanced showings to date with 33 made field goals off 20 assists, which was the team’s second 20-plus assist outing this year. It’s also worth noting the Billikens eclipsed the 20-assist mark in only two games last season.

“I used to play point guard for coach Ford,” Goodwin said. “I still do, but for our team to be successful, we need Yuri to run it. So I’m in his ear a lot, telling him what reads to make, and just telling him to be himself.”

Sitting at 8-1 with wins over Belmont, Tulane and a resurgent Eastern Washington team, success for Saint Louis looks a lot different than it did in the preseason, in which the Billikens were picked seventh out of 14 teams. Although Dayton, VCU and Richmond don’t appear to be going anywhere, the Billikens’ mix of young, budding stars and proven upperclassmen talent has put them in a position to not only pull a few upsets in conference play, but also aim for the postseason. Sure, Collins and Jimerson can lead Saint Louis back to the NCAA Tournament anytime over their next three years. But why not now?