The last time Cory Jefferson changed his number it was from the No. 14 he wore at Rancier Middle to the No. 34 he would don as a member of the Killeen Kangaroos.
But this number change is different, more meaningful.
Jefferson is one of the new members of the Brooklyn Nets and plans to wear No. 21 to pay tribute to Baylor teammate Isaiah Austin.
“I thought of Isaiah because of the tough time he’s been going through and he’s not able to actually play the game anymore,” Jefferson said. “Finding out five days before the draft and having a career that you’ve been dreaming of for the longest time and not being able to do it is something tough.”
Jefferson, a forward, and Austin, a center, were teammates at Baylor the last two seasons. The duo helped Baylor win the NIT Title in 2013 and make a run to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2014.
Austin entered the NBA draft after his sophomore year at BU, but was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissues.
Austin received the career-ending diagnosis five days before the draft and the news was also devastating for Jefferson.
“It hurt me when he told me,” Jefferson said. “He called me right after he found out that Saturday evening and told me he wasn’t going to be able to play anymore. As soon as he told me that, I went right over to his house.”
Austin was projected as a first-round draft pick before his dream of playing in the NBA came to an end. But he did get a chance to be part of the NBA Draft.
Between the 15th and 16th picks in the first round, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stood at the podium and gave Austin a ceremonial pick.
“With the next pick in the 2014 NBA draft, the NBA selects Isaiah Austin from Baylor University,” Silver said to a cascade of applause.
Austin stood up, put on a royal blue hat with the iconic Jerry West silhouette logo, walked up to the stage and shook Silver’s hand.
Jefferson was watching the draft at the Grand Ballroom of the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Killeen. Jefferson said it was “emotional” for him watching his close friend being honored by Silver.
After working out for the Nets and the New York Knicks, Jefferson flew from New York to Dallas on Thursday morning then drove to Killeen for his draft party.
Mock drafts had him being a second round pick. The defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs took him with the 60th and final pick of the draft. The Spurs traded his rights to the Nets less than 24 hours later.
“I worked out with them on Tuesday and they were still very interested in me so I was always hearing good things from them,” Jefferson said of the Nets.