Everyone has their opinion about Amile Jefferson (Philadelphia, Pa./Friends Central) as to why he waited to pick a school and what in the world took him so long. It’s really simple: he paralyzed himself with analysis. The weight of the decision and the factors surrounding his recruitment took a big toll on him.
“I’d just like to see him be happy again,” Jefferson’s father said two hours before the announcement.
In my opinion, Jefferson saw himself as a Duke player long ago. Inside, there’s a part of him that knew where he wanted to go and how to get there. Play hard, be tough, show your passion and Mike Krzyewski’s affection would follow accordingly. In a way, that’s exactly what happened, only it didn’t happen the way a high school player would ideally like to be courted.
In 2010, at Duke’s Midnight Madness, I remember seeing Jefferson beam. He was excited to be on the Blue Devils campus. That night, Jefferson was there with Rasheed Sulaimon (Houston/Strake Jesuit). The difference between the two was Sulaimon received an offer, Jefferson didn’t. Sulaimon moved in with the Blue Devils, Jefferson had to move on.
“I wasn’t hurt,” Jefferson said. “That’s how things happen. What I did was what I always do and that was continue to work. All things will fall into place.”
If there was a wound, time healed it. Time and Krzyzewski’s personal attention, following a Duke offer this winter.
“Once Coach K started recruiting me, I did not talk to an assistant coach,” Jefferson said. “That definitely shows the coach wants you and every conversation I had with him seemed genuine. I felt like I can become a better person and player at Duke University.
“I definitely wanted to take a look at the school. Duke is a once in a lifetime opportunity and something you don’t pass up on. The relationship I was able to build with Coach K was amazing.”
Go figure, a recruit relying on a relationship to make a decision. That folks, is the nature of this game. Kids typically don’t select schools, they select coaches. In the case of Jefferson, Coach K and Duke’s brand kept everyone at bay.
The signing of Jefferson was key for Duke for another reason. NC State crushed it on the trail during Mark Gottfried’s first season. Think about the state of the program’s recruiting when he took over a year ago and where it is today. Frankly, it’s two years ahead of schedule. Had the Pack scored with Jefferson it would have been a big shot over the bow. They were close.
“I think to be honest the school that led the most in this process was probably NC State,” Jefferson said. “I loved the school, the people, the coaching staff and the way they recruited me. They’re going to do great things but at the end of the day I struggled with that in trying to make this decision. Duke, for me, just seemed like a better fit.”
The first time I ever saw Jefferson play was following his freshman year in Las Vegas. We talked after the game and it was clear: he had Duke written all over him. Over time, I had the sense that Jefferson too saw himself as a Duke basketball player. Well, it took longer than expected but that’s exactly what happened.