Killeen High School graduate Cory Jefferson never lost sight of his childhood dream of playing for a pro basketball team. In fact, his dream could come true in four days when the NBA Draft begins.
Jefferson, who played college hoops at Baylor, hopes to become the city’s first athlete drafted by the NBA.
“It’s a pretty cool feeling to be going through the process of trying to be in the NBA,” Jefferson said Monday afternoon. “Right now, I’m pretty relaxed about it. It’s obviously something I’m looking forward to. But next week, around Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, I’ll start getting a little nervous.”
It’s been almost three months since Baylor University’s roller-coaster season came to an end after losing in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 to eventual Final Four member Wisconsin.
Baylor started the Big 12 portion of its schedule 2-8 before winning seven of its final eight regular-season games and took that momentum into the postseason.
Jefferson, a 6-foot-9 forward, participated in the NBA Combine in May where prospects showed off their athletic abilities in front of executives, scouts, coaches and doctors.
According to the latest mock draft at CBSSports.com, Jefferson will be a late second-round pick. Zach Harker has him being taken with the 51st pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Matte Moore has him going at No. 52 to the Philadelphia 76ers and Gary Parrish thinks he’ll go to the Denver Nuggets with the 56th pick.
The NBA Draft only has two rounds, so there is a possibility Jefferson will not be drafted. But if that happens, his pro hopes won’t necessarily be over. Plenty of players went on to have strong NBA careers without being drafted.
Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem played one year of pro basketball for Chalon-Sur-Saone of the French league before he signed with the Heat as an unrestricted free agent in 2003. He’s won three NBA championships, appeared in five NBA Finals and earned more than $46 million, including a $4.3 million salary this past season.
While non-NBA options are available to him, Jefferson wants to stay positive until the draft is complete.
“I’m trying to take care of everything right now and do what I have to do to get my name called,” he said.
Runnin’ with the Roos
When opposing teams pulled their buses into the Killeen High School parking lot to take on Jefferson and the Kangaroos, one thing was certain: They got back on the bus a few hours later with a loss.
Jefferson was one of the most — if not the most — accomplished players in school history.
“We never lost a home game in my four years there,” Jefferson said. “I’m proud of that. I also have great memories from our rivalry games playing against Ellison, Shoemaker and Harker Heights. It was fun to play against my friends on those other teams.”
Jefferson led Killeen to three consecutive 30-win seasons.
As a sophomore during the 2006-2007 season, he averaged 13.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 5.1 blocks, earning First-Team All-District 16-4A honors.
Former Killeen coach and current Flower Mound head coach Jason Fossett said he’s excited about Jefferson’s opportunity. Fossett first saw Jefferson’s potential to play professionally when Jefferson was a junior.
Fossett said Jefferson had the right mix of talent and work ethic.
“When you have talent and you combine that with work ethic and effort, those are the guys who are real special,” he said.
Jefferson committed to Baylor early in his junior year. He also had offers from Arizona State, Kansas State, Marquette, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M universities.
As a senior, Jefferson averaged 19 points, six rebounds and shot 53.6 percent from the floor in 37 games. He was a first-team Texas Association of Basketball Coaches all-state selection, was the TABC Class 4A Player of the Year and a First-Team All-District 25-4A selection.
Former Killeen High star and current Harker Heights boys basketball coach Celneque Bobbitt said matching up with Jefferson was difficult because his long frame erased so many shots the Knights put up. Bobbitt adopted the “Cory Jefferson Rules” with which his players defended Jefferson full court.
“Cory, along with TaShawn Thomas (now at Oklahoma), was the biggest difference maker in high school in the last five or six years around here,” Bobbitt said.
“The main deal with defending Cory full court was to try and make him exert himself that much more. Because if we simply let Cory run down and get into post position, forget it. It was an automatic hoop.”
Jefferson enters the draft as the exception rather than the norm.
In an era of one-and-dones, Jefferson is a prospect who used all four years of his collegiate eligibility.
“Just being able to stick around, I was definitely able to learn a few things that a freshman might not know,” Jefferson said. “I’m thinking that helped me a lot more.”
He needed the full four years to not only develop his game, but also add to his frame. He gained almost 40 pounds of muscle at Baylor.
Jefferson was part of the Bears’ Elite Eight teams as a freshman in 2010 and redshirt sophomore in 2012, but he took on a bigger role as a starter the last two years.
He averaged 13 points and seven rebounds as a junior to help Baylor win the NIT title and averaged 13 points and eight rebounds as a senior to help Baylor make it back to the NCAA Tournament.
Jefferson grew up watching the tournament, and for him, the only thing better than watching the games was playing in them.
“It’s so crazy,” Jefferson said. “You watch it every year and it’s something I wanted to be a part of ever since I first started to play basketball. My last year, I was able to finally get on the court and be out there with my team.”
Baylor men’s basketball coach Scott Drew said Jefferson was a role model in the program and will be missed this winter.
“Cory’s shot blocking, rebounding, touch scoring were important and he was a great team guy,” Drew said. “You have a lot to replace right there, especially in the intangible categories.”
Jefferson was an all-conference third-team selection this year and an honorable mention as a junior.
Looking for a home
Jefferson wore green and gold for the last time March 27 when the Bears lost to Wisconsin 69-52 in Anaheim, Calif.
Like many other students at Baylor, he turned his attention to the next chapter of his life. But instead of shooting out resumes, he was practicing jump shots.
“It’s a job interview,” Jefferson said. “It’s a job that I want to have and you go in there with every team and work out with the coaches and everybody else watching you. It’s exactly a job interview.”
Jefferson had a vertical reach of 8-foot-9 at the combine and a wingspan of 7-foot-1. The combine website compared his measurements to future Hall-of-Famer Kobe Bryant and current New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis.
After the combine, Jefferson worked out for 15 teams, including the Detroit Pistons last week.
Though airports, hotel rooms and practice facilities have been the norm for a few weeks, Jefferson loves the process.
“I’m definitely having a lot of fun,” he said. “Going to all the different cities is enjoyable and I’m running into some old friends ... as well as meeting new people, too. I want to soak it all in because this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
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