• July 31, 2014

Killeen’s hoopsters making impact in NCAA

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Posted: Sunday, March 10, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 6:29 pm, Mon Mar 11, 2013.

Cory Jefferson took a step back, lined up his shot and drained the 3-pointer.

It was his first of the season.

He had started the day 0-of-5 from beyond the arc. The former Killeen star finished the day with his first three career 3-pointers.

That was not exactly his repertoire coming into the game. But it worked.

Jefferson scored 25 points, was dominant early and added a long-range touch to his usual powering dunks as he helped Baylor hand Kansas its worst loss in seven years, 81-58.

The loss left the Jayhawks sharing the Big 12 title with rival Kansas State and gave new life to the Bears’ chances for an NCAA bid.

Jefferson has officially arrived. So has Killeen — at least in terms of making an impact on college hoops.

Jefferson, TaShawn Thomas, D.J. Stephens, Devonte Brown and Royce O’Neale are all getting it done at the next level, not only playing but making an impact and leading their teams.

About the only thing Jefferson has not done this season is lead his team to the NCAA tournament.

Baylor, which went to an NCAA regional final last season, had lost six of its previous seven games and was already locked in as the No. 6 seed in the Big 12 tournament. Even with the win over Kansas, the Bears may not make it and will more than likely be in the NIT if they can’t pick up a win or two in the Big 12 tournament.

O’Neale and Denver are probably in there, too, if they don’t win the WAC tournament. O’Neale, though, is second on the team in scoring (11.6), first in rebounding (5.5) and second in assists (3.4).

Still, the NIT looks likely for the Pioneers.

Stephens has not had that problem. The former Harker Heights standout is leading Memphis in rebounding at 6.6 per game and the Tigers wrapped up the regular season Conference USA title with a thrashing of Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday. Stephens scored 13 points and pulled down eight boards.

Memphis (27-4) is in the dance, and thanks to Stephens, whose dunking prowess garnered national attention and put him on SportsCenter’s top-10 plays earlier this year.

He did not make the No. 1 play that day.

Friday, though, a former Killeen star did.

Brown, an ex-Ellison Eagle star for Alberto Jones, got a game-winning block of a layup for Indiana State and SportsCenter deemed the play good enough for No. 1 — even if he did get a little bit of the wrist.

But, none of them, not even Jefferson has been as impressive as Thomas this season.

The Houston sophomore and former Killeen star has been simply dominant.

The Cougars are likely NIT bound as well, but not because of any of Thomas’ faults. He has averaged 17 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game this season. On a team that plays two other sophomores and two freshmen, Thomas has become the team’s go-to player in the post.

I said when Houston signed him that they got a steal, that Baylor, Texas and Texas A&M all whiffed on one of the best prospects in Texas. I was right. Thomas has proved his worth in little time. His initial ranking made sure he is not a one-and-done like many of today’s superstar college basketball players, but he will be in the NBA eventually, along with Jefferson, giving the area its first taste of NBA action since Ellison great Fred House. Even if they don’t pan out in the league, though, the area has stepped up its game and made an impact across the NCAA.

Jefferson had the game of his life Saturday. And whether he takes the jump to the NBA or comes back to Baylor next season, he is just getting started.

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