Killeen and Waco may be separated by an hourlong car trip, but two former hoops stars helped bridge the gap this season.
The Baylor Bears showcased a pair of local standouts: forwards Cory Jefferson and Royce O’Neale have been in the starting lineup most of this season.
“We’ve got a lot of hoopers out in Killeen,” Jefferson said. “A lot of people might not know it since it’s a small city, but there have been a couple of people that have come out of there, especially from recent years.”
“All the kids look up to us and they use us as inspiration,” O’Neale said. “Just keep working hard and just go after it.”
Baylor is looking to turn around its season after losing six of its last seven Big 12 games.
Baylor (13-7, 1-6 Big 12) travels to No. 8 Oklahoma State (16-4, 4-3) on Saturday for a 1 p.m. game that will be televised on ESPN.
Jefferson, a fifth-year senior, leads the team with a 12.6 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game and 31 blocks in 20 games.
Jefferson played behind three NBA players early in his collegiate career and broke out last season when he earned all-Big 12 honors after posting 10 double-doubles.
Jefferson said he wants to leave a legacy at Baylor.
“Our long-distance goal is to get to the NCAA tournament,” Jefferson said.
Jefferson came to Waco after a stellar prep career in which he led the Killeen Kangaroos to three consecutive 30-win seasons and four district titles.
He was a Texas Association of Basketball Coaches All-State honoree, the TABC Class 4A Player of the Year and averaged 19.5 points and 6.2 rebounds as a senior.
Former Killeen and current Flower Mound coach Jason Fossett said he remembers how Jefferson took his breath away during a playoff game against Dallas Lincoln as a sophomore.
“I remember him catching a shot off a rebound and flushing it back home,” Fossett said. “When he did that, I remember thinking, man, that guy is going to be really good.”
Jefferson’s basketball career isn’t likely to end soon. CBSsports.com ranks Jefferson as the No. 32 overall prospect in the 2014 NBA Draft.
O’Neale has started in 13 of the 20 games Baylor has played and averages 5.9 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game.
The former Harker Heights standout transferred from Denver to be closer to family.
As a Knight, O’Neale led the team to a 28-6 record and a berth in the Class 5A regional quarterfinals as a senior in 2011. O’Neale averaged 16.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per game that season.
O’Neale said fitting in at Baylor wasn’t difficult.
“Yeah, it was kind of easy,” O’Neale said. “We played a lot of open gym when I first got here, especially during the summer. We always hang out with each other since we live right next to each other so we pretty much build chemistry based off that.”
Jefferson and O’Neale said they make it back to Killeen for high school games every chance they get and enjoy a little trash talk when their former schools face off.
“We remember past games that we played, he is older than me so I didn’t get a chance to play against him,” O’Neale said. “So he brings up that they beat us, but I also bring up that we beat them when I was playing.”
Contact Albert Alvarado at email@example.com