Fancy Pace, Cory Jefferson’s mom, received an NCAA tournament watch in 2010.
“When Cory was a freshman at Baylor and the team made the 2010 NCAA tournament, he was given a watch from the NCAA,” Pace said, during an interview on Friday. “I asked Cory if I could wear it. I told him I wouldn’t stop wearing it until he reaches his goal. Cory’s goal was to make it into the NBA.”
Cory is 6-foot-9, 220 pounds.
“So the watch looks like a large bracelet on me,” Pace said. “It dangles from my arm. Cory never said anything to me about it after he gave it to me. But he knew, by my wearing it, that that was my way of showing support for him. Every day, ever since, I’d grab my keys and that watch.”
Cory is in the NBA now. He was drafted by San Antonio on Thursday night. By Friday, the Brooklyn Nets traded for Jefferson.
“Over the past few months,” Pace said, “everyone has been asking Cory ‘What team do you want to go to?’ Cory’s reply was simple: ‘The NBA.’ He wasn’t that concerned. But we are happy that he’ll be playing for the Nets. He worked out for them on Tuesday and Cory liked them a lot.”
Cory was born on Dec. 26, 1990. To coin a phrase, Cory was big when he was little.
“Cory was 9-something pounds, 21 inches at birth,” Pace said. “He was a chubby baby — and he was funny. I remember when he was about 18-months old, he’d be in the bathtub wearing a shower cap and splashing the water all over his face and all over the place and laughing like crazy.”
Cory was introduced to basketball at age 2. Well, sort of.
“Cory’s dad and I were at a restaurant and his dad bought him a glow-in-the-dark basketball there,” Pace said. “Cory played with it but I can’t remember if he was trying to kick it or bounce it.”
By middle school, Cory was tall for his age.
“Cory was gangly, sort of awkward in basketball,” Pace said. “But he asked the coach, Craig Pyle, if he could try out for the team. Cory told me he didn’t do well but he said he wanted to ask the coach why he didn’t make the team so maybe he could improve in the future.
“Well, Coach Pyle asked Cory right back, ‘What do you think the reason is that you didn’t make the team?’ And they talked about Cory needing to keep working hard, being patient with the game, and trusting that, through hard work, Cory would grow into his body. Cory nodded and said, ‘Thank you.’
“Then Coach Pyle said to Cory, ‘Oh, by the way, you did make the team.’ ”
The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Cory Jefferson became a tough middle-school player and then etched himself into Killeen High School athletic lore with three sensational varsity seasons.
All-District awards. All-State honors. Texas Class 4A Player of the Year. Killeen won at least 30 games in all three of Jefferson’s varsity seasons.
Cory Jefferson wouldn’t be able to tell you how it felt to lose a home basketball game in high school because it never happened.
“That’s something that remains very important still to Cory,” said Pace, 58, who served 21 years in the military, retiring in 2001 as staff sergeant. “Cory felt it essential you protect your own court — never losing a home game shows how much he cared, and his teammates, too. They all worked so well together.”
Cory was BMOC — big man on campus.
“I grew up watching ‘Leave it to Beaver,’” Pace said. “And I was sort of living it. Cory was like the son in the show, Wally Cleaver, wearing the letterman’s jacket. Although I don’t even think Cory knows who Wally Cleaver was.
“It was during Cory’s high school days that we were introduced to AAU ball and that’s when Cory started playing in Austin, Las Vegas, San Antonio, all over the place.”
Cory was heavily recruited and ended up choosing Baylor. He became a starter his junior season, averaging 13 points and eight rebounds per game. In 2014, Jefferson again averaged 13 points and eight boards and helped lead Baylor to the Sweet 16. Along the way, Jefferson didn’t forget the person who helped him so much.
“Cory sometimes would just say to me, ‘Mom, thanks for taking me to all those games for all those years,’” Pace said. “Last year, he sent me a text that read, ‘Mom, thank you for taking me all around and doing everything you could for me.’ ”
At 11:15 p.m. on Thursday, Cory Jefferson was selected in the NBA draft. Cory hugged his girlfriend.
And then he hugged mom. For over a minute.
“He put his head on my shoulders,” Pace said. “It was a beautiful moment. This was his dream come true.”
The initials “CJ” are tattooed on the back of Jefferson’s arm.
“It doesn’t stand for ‘Cory Jefferson,’ ” Pace said. “That’s Cory’s way of remembering his dad, Charles Jefferson.”
Charles Jefferson died of cancer in 2003, when Cory was just 12 years old.
“Cory is basically a private person,” Pace said. “But sometimes we’ll talk about his dad. This I know for sure: If Charles could have seen Cory get drafted into the NBA, he’d have been dancing all over the place. He’d have been ecstatic.”
On Mother’s Day, 2013, Cory bought his mom a watch.
“It’s a ladies watch and so it fits me,” Pace said. “But, still, I’ve only been wearing the watch that Cory earned his freshman year. It was our symbol of his dream to make the NBA.”
As for that bracelet-size-fitting NCAA tournament watch that Fancy had been wearing since 2010, Fancy took it off on Friday — forever.
She’ll keep it in a case in her home.
“Cory made it to the NBA,” Pace said. “He made it. My baby boy made it.”
Contact Allan Mandell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 254-501-7566 and read his column at KDHPressbox.com