Whether he did it wearing Killeen maroon at his cozy high school gym or donning Baylor green at the Ferrell Center, Cory Jefferson has checked into a game many times during his playing career.
But this one was different.
Getting up during the league’s opening night, Jefferson walked to the scorer’s table at the TD Garden in Boston facing the famed Celtics with 17 championship banner hanging from the ceiling and checked into the game.
He had made it into an NBA game.
“I can’t explain it, really,” Jefferson said. “It’s just a great feeling. Pretty much everything you’ve been working for: You get to accomplish your goal of playing in the NBA.”
Jefferson recorded his first point of his career on a made free throw with 10 minutes remaining. Boston won the game, 121-105.
A 6-foot-9, 218-pound power forward, Jefferson had a solid rookie campaign for the Brooklyn Nets.
“I think my first year went pretty well,” Jefferson said.
Jefferson averaged 3.7 points and 2.9 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game this year. He played in 50 games.
The Nets went 38-44 in 2014-15 and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Atlanta Hawks, the Eastern Conference’s top seed.
Brooklyn still has an offseason to make moves, draft players and settle its lineup, but Jefferson said the team learned from last season and hopes to take some momentum going into 2015-16.
“We just focus on the things we did wrong and also the things we did right,” Jefferson said. “Build on the things we did right and correct the things we did wrong.”
Jefferson had to wait to hear his name in the 2014 draft, but he was finally selected with the 60th and final pick of the annual event. Jefferson’s draft rights were quickly traded to the Nets the following day.
“It’s a whole lot better on the professional level,” Jefferson said. “Everyone out here, this is their actual job. If they don’t produce, then someone else steps up, so everyone is playing competitive. Everyone is giving it their all every night.”
Jefferson cracked double digits for the first time with 11 points in a 114-87 win at Charlotte on Dec. 13. March 6 proved to be Jefferson’s best game of the year as he recorded 12 points and 13 rebounds in a 108-100 home loss to Phoenix.
For him, everything came together against the Suns.
“Whenever I got into the game, I wanted to just go out there and go for every rebound,” Jefferson said about the Phoenix game. “That night, they were just coming to me.”
Beyond that, Jefferson said his first season was about learning from key veterans such as Kevin Garnett.
“The first day I met him, he told me the game is what you make it to be and you’ll be in the league as long as you want to stick around,” Jefferson said. “It depends on how hard you want to work and everything you did to get here, you’ve got to continue to do it.”
While at Killeen High, Jefferson and the Kangaroos never lost a home game. 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 earning the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Class 4A Player of the Year Award and was an All-District 25-4A first-team selection.
At Baylor, Jefferson broke into the starting lineup his junior year, 2012-13. In that season, Jefferson averaged 13 points and seven rebounds and helped the Bears win the NIT championship.
As a Bears senior, Jefferson averaged 13 points and eight rebounds and helped Baylor 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 and was part of two Bears teams that reached the NCAA Elite Eight.
But no matter how many thousands of people he plays against, which future Hall of Fame player or coach he finds himself on the same court with or which celebrity he spots in the front row, Killeen and Waco helped mold him and will remain close to his heart.
“Everybody that ever helped me and gave me knowledge about the game, they all went into me getting here and helped me get better,” Jefferson said.