Rondae Jefferson would be perched there anxiously at the edge of the bench, tapping his foot incessantly, a ball tucked under his right arm as his eyes floated from side-to-side like great brown sponges absorbing everything. He'd never miss a Chester (Pa.) practice, nor the chance to watch his older brother, Rahlir, then a rising star on the most prolific high school basketball program in Pennsylvania.
But the best part of those days were the water breaks. Yes, the water breaks.
That's when the daily beating would come. Karon Burton was the best player on the best team in Pennsylvania, and Rondae was right there to greet the quicksilver point guard each time Burton walked off the court.
"Let's go, check it," Rondae would say, tossing Burton a ball. Burton would look at him and grin – "Again with this, I have to beat you again!" Rondae would square up, intently looking at Burton's chest, determined to stop him this time. And so they would go at it, Rondae, the lanky seventh grader, getting schooled by one of the Southeastern Pennsylvania masters.
Sometimes, Rondae wouldn't score at all. But that didn't matter. There was tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. One of these days, Rondae used to think, he would beat him. That will be the day.
Jefferson never got the better of those clashes. But his day has come.
The skinny kid that was a constant shadow to his older brother on the asphalt Chester playgrounds begging to show what he could do against the older kids has blossomed into a 6-7, 195-pound sophomore point guard. The jovial, loquacious Rondae that once used to hear how great Rahlir was everywhere he went in Chester is now establishing himself as not only one of the best players in Pennsylvania, but one of the best sophomores in the country.
Chester finished out the 2010 season as PIAA Class AAAA (large school) state champions. The Clippers finished an amazing season ranked No. 18 in the country by MaxPreps.com and were 31-1 overall, never losing to a team from Pennsylvania. As Chester advanced through the state playoffs, more and more familiar faces would begin turning up at Chester games. Villanova's Jay Wright. St. Joseph's Phil Martelli. Temple's Fran Dunphy, who coaches Rahlir, now a sophomore starter for the Owls. They were there to see Rondae, a burgeoning star who began taking over the point guard duties the latter part of the year, causing match-up nightmares for every team the Clippers faced in the postseason.
The schools are lining up, too: Villanova, Temple, Rutgers, St. Joseph's, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and Rondae's dream school, North Carolina.
Jefferson has a big summer ahead. He's waiting on invitations from big summer camps, is playing AAU for Team Final in the 16-and-unders, and will probably garner even more attention. His goal is to commit sometime next summer, before his senior year.
"And if Carolina offers me anything, I'm gone," Rondae said. "That's been my dream school, because it's where my favorite player, Michael Jordan, played. If there was a school after that, it's probably Temple, because of how coach Dunphy has treated my brother and my family. It's a great place, same as Villanova. They're high on my list, too. But we'll see where things go. I do want to commit early, like Rahlir, so I can enjoy my senior year."
The left-handed Jefferson is explosive to the basket, a defensive force (you better play defense for Chester coach Larry Yarbray, or you don't play) and a true court general, able to find creases in an opposing defense and exploit them. If he has a flaw, it's an inconsistent outside shot, but that's something he's steadily correcting.
"By the time he leaves, Rondae will make history as Chester's first [high school] all-American," predicted Chester teammate Maurice Nelson, who should know a thing or two about all-Americans, as the younger brother of Jameer Nelson. "You can tell when Rondae was young that was going to be good. He was always around the older guys, playing and practicing with us. Now that he's gotten bigger and stronger, he's the one everyone is trying to keep up with."