WACO — Used to hearing barely five words from Cory Jefferson, fans of the Baylor junior post player let the 6-foot-9 former Killeen High standout get out just four words before starting their applause.
“I will be returning,” Jefferson said, “for another year.”
The soft-spoken and usually reserved Jefferson announced his decision to return to the team for his senior season Thursday alongside Baylor men’s head basketball coach Scott Drew in the Simpson Center.
“I like that,” Drew injerected with a smile amidst the applause.
Outside the jubilant second-story conference room, people filed out of the nearby Ferrell Center, where nearly 10,000 mourners gathered to remember the 14 people killed, including 10 first-responders, in the deadly fertilizer plant explosion April 17 in West.
Drew opened the press conference thanking raising President Barack Obama for his presence at the ceremony and his words of consolation.
“I thought the ceremony was first-class and our thoughts and prayers will continue for the people and everybody affected by what happened in West,” Drew said.
Inside the conference room, the Bears looked to the future, solidifying at least one key piece of their 2013-14 roster with Jefferson, who will be a fifth-year senior.
“Everybody on the team, everyone in the community, they love Cory and at the same time, respect him enough to let him make a decision that’s what he thought was best for his future,” Drew said. “We’re glad it’s with us and I know the team is really excited because everybody loves being a teammate with Cory.
After seeing limited time on the court as a freshman, redshirting as a sophomore and playing behind three players currently in the NBA, Jefferson emerged as a go-to player for the Bears this season. He averaged 13.3 blocks, 8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks a game this season, helping lead the Bears to the NIT Championship, Baylor’s first national tournament championship in its 107-year history.
“Everything went into this decision,” Jefferson said. “It’s probably one of the biggest decisions of my life. Before this time, I would say it was the redshirt, but that decision was a breeze compared to this one. It was just a lot of thinking, a lot of digging for information and a lot of praying, constantly. Praying was the biggest one. All those went into the decision.”
Jefferson started all 37 games for the Bears this season after starting just one in 55 games his first three years.
He was the Bears’ second-leading scorer, but was undeniably at his best in the NIT. He made the all-tournament team as the Bears’ leading scorer through the tournament, averaging 21.2 points a game on 71.9 percent field goal shooting.
Taking the redshirt Drew offered following his freshman season was a hard one for Jefferson to make.
But, the wiry post player used the opportunity to build muscle and mass. After graduating from Killeen in 2009, he weighed just 170 pounds. But, through a rigorous diet and weigh-lifting regimen, Jefferson bulked up to 215 this season, making him better suited to match-up with other forwards.
Many mock draft boards projected Jefferson as a second round pick in the NBA Draft and Jefferson said he believes another year in college would improve his status entering next year’s draft.
“You can always get better, that’s how I’ll always see it,” Jefferson said. “I know I can always improve on my defense, I can always, like I said, everything can always get better and I just want to improve everything I did this year.
“For this season, I want to improve and just make it that much better for next season.”