Cory Jefferson walked out onto the hallway outside of the Grand Ballroom on the first floor of the Courtyard Marriott. He was reserved, quiet and accepting.
The tall, muscular former Killeen Kangaroo and Baylor Bear had been preparing all his life for that moment in the NBA draft when his name would be called. He had been on a tour of NBA cities in hopes of impressing that one scout, that one coach, that one team and become an NBA draftee on Thursday night.
It was 11 p.m. and Jefferson thought it wasn’t meant to be. He hadn’t heard his name called. He was thinking about further opportunities and workouts down the road. He began thanking family and friends for their support.
But like any child that was born in 1990, he heard the news in the fashion most fit for a member of the millennial generation.
“My friend told me that they saw something on Twitter that said I might be going to the Spurs and I just started laughing at them,” Jefferson said. “I was like no, that’s not it, but then I saw I had a missed call from my agent.”
And with that his life changed. Jefferson watched NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum walk up to the podium, thanks to a projector that had been set up with a draft stream of ESPN.
Tatum announced that with the 60th and final pick of the 2014 NBA draft, the defending world champion San Antonio Spurs selected Jefferson.
The announcement was a welcome one for Jefferson, who ran the emotional gamut in the five hours it took the NBA to go through 60 picks and two rounds of its annual draft.
Jefferson had received a call from his agent, Mike Silverman, moments before the Spurs selected him.
Once a graphic with the name “Cory Jefferson” in white type came up on the bottom of the screen, joy and pandemonium ensued. Excited cheers filled the room.
Jefferson immediately turned to his right and gave two of the most important women in his life huge embraces. First his girlfriend, Shadonna Dukes, then his mother, Fancy Pace.
The emotion came out of Jefferson as he thanked everyone in the room as the highlights of him in a gold Baylor uniform played larger than life on the projector in the background.
Jefferson had the two biggest smiles in the room, one on the actual real-life flesh and blood player standing in the room, the other on the ESPN photo projected on the screen behind him.
At that moment, Jefferson realized, all the jumpers and defensive drills he did at Killeen High and Baylor were worth it.
Life has been a rush for Jefferson since he played his final game for Baylor in March.
He’s been traveling from NBA city to city working out 13 times for 11 different NBA teams, including the Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, Portland Trail Blazers and New York Knicks. He told the Herald last week that this process was like a job interview for a job he wanted to have.
Jefferson flew from New York to Dallas on Thursday then drove to Killeen for a gathering of about 50 family and close friends. He was in the “Big Apple” working out for both the Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, the team that eventually traded for his draft rights.
“Family and friends, those are the people you want around to celebrate with,” Jefferson said.
The room was a celebration of Jefferson. After all, how many people even get to this point? No player from Killeen had ever been drafted and former Harker Heights star D.J. Stephens was the only player from the Killeen Independent School District to play in the NBA.
Upon passing through the doors to enter the ballroom, guests could see to their immediate right a table set up with Jefferson’s No. 34 Baylor white home jersey, Killeen Daily Herald newspaper clippings and even a photo of Jefferson as a child wearing a white dress shirt and matching Barney the Dinosaur tie.
“One of my neighbors had a basketball goal back at home and said, ‘Little Cory, he’d be out there every day bouncing that ball, bouncing that ball,’” Pace said. “And look where he is now. For him, it’s been a dream since middle school or so and he’s been pushing through despite all of the naysayers, all of the doubters.”
Of course, you can’t call Jefferson “Little Cory” anymore.
The 6-foot-9, 220-pound power forward became a legend at Killeen High and blossomed into a Big 12 star in Waco.
But at Rancier Middle School things changed. Jefferson was a wide receiver and a high jumper, but he was already 6-foot-3 and basketball won out.
“Those were my first years playing sports and I wanted to find something and see what I was doing, see what I was good at,” Jefferson said. “I just grew to really love the sport of basketball. When I got to high school, I focused mostly on the sport of basketball.”
While at Killeen High, Jefferson and the Roos never lost a home game. He is one of the most — if not the most — accomplished players in the history of the school. He led Killeen to three consecutive 30-win seasons. As a sophomore during the 2006-07 season, he averaged 13.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 5.1 blocks to garner All-District 16-4A honors.
In his senior season, Jefferson averaged 19 points, six rebounds and shot 53.6 percent from the field. He became a name across the Lone Star State after being named the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Class 4A Player of the Year and was an All-District 25-4A first-team selection.
Jefferson’s coach at Killeen Jason Fossett, currently the coach at Flower Mound, was thrilled for Jefferson.
“I think he’ll have a good opportunity there to catch on,” Fossett said. “He’ll go after it. And with Jason Kidd, he’ll have a future hall-of-famer as a head coach, which is always a good thing. He’s got Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and, hopefully if he catches on, he’ll be able to play with them for a long time.”
Jefferson entered the draft as an anomaly, a player who used all four years of his eligibility. He was a part of Baylor’s Elite Eight team as a freshman in 2010 and redshirt sophomore in 2012 and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in May.
He broke into the starting lineup in his junior year, 2012-13. In that season, Jefferson averaged 13 points and seven rebounds and helped Baylor win the NIT championship.
Last season, Jefferson averaged 13 points and eight rebounds and helped the Bears turn their season around and make it to the NCAA Sweet 16 before losing to eventual Final Four participant Wisconsin.
Jefferson finished his collegiate career with 60 double-digit scoring games.
Won’t be stashed
After watching the draft for four hours, at 10:40 p.m., Jefferson walked out of the room at the Marriott in a hush.
Silverman called him and told him that the Timberwolves were interested in taking him with one of their three second-round picks, but there was a catch: He would have to play his first professional year in Europe, a practice known in the league as “Draft and Stash.”
Jefferson told Silverman he wasn’t interested in that plan.
“Everybody wants to hear their named called in the draft, it’s always a dream that every player has, but at the end of the day, it’s about where you’ll be after that,” Jefferson said. “I felt the best decision for me was to wait. It’s kind of disappointing not to hear your name, but at the end of the day, it’s about the overall thing and I wanted to still be here in the (United) States.”
Jefferson had been told by the Mavericks that he could try and make their squad as an undrafted free agent.
All in all, it was an emotional night.
Jefferson’s collegiate teammate Isaiah Austin walked up to the podium between the 15th and 16th overall picks to be honored by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Austin was considered a first-round draft prospect until he was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissues, and so his playing career is over.
“That was definitely an emotional moment for me,” Jefferson said. “Just seeing him walk across that stage; I knew it was something that he wanted and something that he dreamed about.”
The business of basketball
Immediately after being drafted, Jefferson talked about how there are a lot of Spurs fans in Killeen.
But it turns out he was a Spur for less than 24 hours.
Jefferson was one of three players whom the Nets acquired the draft rights to.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” Jefferson said on Friday in a phone interview. “I’ve been just letting everything sink in.”
Jefferson joins a team that went 44-38 last season and advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals before losing to the Miami Heat in five games.
Jefferson will have a chance to play alongside established stars like Pierce, Garnett and Deron Williams.
But the move from Killeen to Brooklyn won’t be the only change in his life. After going through high school and college with the No. 34, Jefferson plans to change that to No. 21 in tribute to Austin.
Jefferson will report to the team Monday in Orlando, Fla., and participate in the team’s summer league beginning July 5.
ORLANDO SUMMER LEAGUE
- July 5: Brooklyn vs. Indiana, 8 a.m.
- July 6: Brooklyn vs. Miami, 6 p.m.
- July 7: Brooklyn vs. Oklahoma City, 6 p.m.
- July 9: Brooklyn vs. Philadelphia, 4 p.m.
All games on NBA TV