Today’s Profile by Rowan Shiell
Going into his Junior season, Amile Jefferson seems to have been overlooked. Sure he was a top recruit who committed late to Duke among a lot of fanfare, but to date he seems to have just blended in. First it was the Mason Plumlee show. Then last season it was all about Jabari Parker, and to a slightly lesser extent, Rodney Hood.
This season Jefferson can’t hide, not that he did previously but a major contribution is required from him if Duke wants to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Even though he was injured over the summer and was off the court, he stood out enough, while Coach Krzyzewski was on USA duty, to be made a Captain upon the return of Coach.
Expectations are high for Duke with the arrival of four heralded Freshmen, but they can’t succeed without their upperclassmen. They have zero experience playing college basketball. So they are going to need help transitioning to a more disciplined and structured type of basketball.
That’s where Jefferson comes in and from all reports, he seems to be on the right track. A hip injury kept him off the court but he is fine now, ready to lead a relatively new squad into action.
Tyus Jones is hyped as one of the best pure, passing Point Guards in his recruiting class, if not the best. If he measures up to an inkling of his hype, Jefferson, who is very good at picking off defenders and rolling to the hoop, will fit with him smoothly.
After playing with Mason Plumlee, as a Freshman, Jefferson should get along perfectly with Jahil Okafor, who is considered not only the best Center, but the top recruit by ESPN in the class of 2014.
Duke will have a traditional team. Unlike last year’s experiment with players in their correct positions, except maybe Quinn Cook. He traditionally plays “Lead Guard,” but may start at “Off Guard” but that’s a minor concern as Cook can play both positions.
The Blue Devils should tick the boxes, for three-point-shooting, post play and mid range shooting. Three requisites of a potential championship team, which makes them harder to stop.
If a team can only shoot Threes and you take that away, so what are you left with ? Not much, but if they can score inside and hit the midrange shot, it makes that team harder to pin down. This is basketball at its simplest terms.
The mid range area is where Amile needs to exceed to help Duke. Okafor is considered an elite Post player, so Jefferson will have some freedom to either take that mid-range jumper or pump-fake his man for a drive to the hoop. He is very good at finishing around the hoop. If he can hit that jumper consistently, it will keep the Defense from double-teaming Okafor in the post, giving the freshman ample room to do his best damage.
On the defensive end is where an entirely different struggle awaits the 6’9” forward. With a 7-foot wingspan, he should make a great help-defender, but as a one-on-one post defender he struggled to hold his position at times, hence his propensity to Foul. This has been Jefferson’s Achilles Heel. Last season, he had the highest Field Goal Percentage, by far, among his teammates, and struggled to stay on the court due to early foul trouble.
One of his best games was at Syracuse, where Duke lost in Overtime, but by that time Jefferson was reduced to a glorified cheerleader. He scored 14 Points, grabbed 7 Rebounds and dished out 5 Assists, but was eventually disqualified after picking up 5 Fouls. Syracuse was then able to take advantage of mismatches inside to win the game.
If anyone is primed for a breakout season it is Jefferson. If he can stay on the court and get 10 shots per game the return would be enormous for Duke, seeing that he made 64% of his field goal attempts as a Sophomore. He does need to improve his Free Throw Shooting though, as he made 50% of his attempts, last season. The silver lining here is he only attempted 2 per game.
Despite the wide criticism of his slight build, Jefferson doesn’t need to add further weight as he has the same build as Lance Thomas, who did a great job for Duke at around 220 pounds. So you have to figure Jefferson is fine as he is. Anthony Davis played at a similar weight at Kentucky and was named Player of the Year.
At the moment Coach Krzyzewski is very high on the junior captain.
“I think Amile has a huge role on this team,” Krzyzewski told the Herald Sun. “He is our best on-court communicator. He talks well. It’s a huge plus. I’m not saying he’s Battier but that’s what Shane did. He communicated the game as it was going on. You don’t have to wait for a time out.”