Out of nowhere, two huge hands snare the ball from midair, and within one motion those hands release it again back through the basket ever so gently. Back on defense, those same hands appear again, swatting a shot that seems destined for twine against a tile wall about 10 feet away.
What is so fascinating about both plays — on either side of the court — is that they came from the same player within a 30-second span and were so basic.
Anyone who's ever watched Amile Jefferson
is used to seeing it. There's nothing garish about the 6-foot-8 rising senior's game. He scores no sexy points with tomahawk dunks or gaudy displays on defense. He's singularly efficient and likes it that way.
The Gatorade Pennsylvania Boys Basketball Player of the Year for 2010-11, Jefferson returns as the best player in the Philadelphia region this season, entering his senior year at Friends' Central (Wynnewoode, Pa.)
a little thicker at around 200 pounds after averaging 19.5 points and 11 rebounds a game last season for the Phoenix. He's bright, plays smart and strong, and above everything else, Jefferson plays solely to win whether he's dumping in 26 points or grabbing 15 rebounds without scoring a point at all.
His play has attracted the attention of Villanova, Temple, Maryland,
North Carolina State, Connecticut, Ohio State and Harvard. What's made
Jefferson that much more attractive to college scouts is the versatility
he's added to his game. The No. 14 player in the recently released MaxPreps Class of 2012 rankings
is no longer a back-to-the-basket player who
relies on his teammates to feed him.
In three years at Friends' Central, the same school that's produced NBA players Hakim Warrick and Mustafa Shakur, Jefferson has led the Phoenix to two straight Friends Schools League titles, three-straight Pennsylvania State Independent Schools championships, and more importantly, won three-straight Donofrio Tournament titles, which comprises many of the best players in the Philadelphia-to-North Jersey corridor.
It's tournaments like the Donofrio, and most recently the NBA Players' Association Top 100 Camp in mid-June, where Jefferson has really stood out — against the best. Jefferson led more than 100 players at the NBAPA Top 100 in scoring, averaging 20 points a game and was easily the best player there.
Jefferson already gives opposing teams trouble as a left-handed shooter, though he's naturally right handed. The post is in his basketball DNA, but he's tricking his DNA into performing on new areas of the court. The new tricks have taken hold. He's been able to consistently hit the 8-to-12-foot jumper on the wing. He's been jacking 3-pointers — and nailing them consistently. He's putting the ball on the floor and driving to the basket, steadily emerging as a tough-to-stop combo forward.
He's reinventing himself piece by piece.
"I'm just trying to strengthen my armor," said Jefferson, who carries a 3.4 GPA at academically demanding Friends Central and just took the SAT for the first time. "I don't want to be limited, and I don't want anyone to limit me. People like to label. I don't want to be labeled as strictly a shot-blocker, or strictly a back-to-the-basket player. I want people to say, you know, he's a basketball player who can do anything on the court. I'm still working on a lot of areas, getting the kinks out, but it's definitely helped me, without a doubt."
He's ranked by MaxPreps as the No. 4 power forward in his class, but what can't be measured is the intangible of Jefferson's willpower. He's relentless on both ends of the court, a rarity that can't be taught. That, too, is in Jefferson's DNA and it's an area of his makeup that doesn't need tricking.
"Amile has been like that since day one when I got him," Friends' Central coach Jason Polykoff said. "He's someone who just gets it. You see kids his age that are more concerned with running over to the scorebook after games, it doesn't matter if they won or lost, as long as they got their points. That's not Amile. He's more concerned with the 'W' and the team more than anything. We preach team basketball here and it makes it so much easier when your star player feels the same way. No one his age can stop him."
Lamont Peterson saw that firsthand. A former Memphis assistant coach, Peterson was at the NBA 100 camp and came away shaking his head at the things Jefferson is able to do.
"At the NBA camp, Amile dominated and was efficient at the same time. It was easy for him to go in-and-out and get his way to the bucket against bigger defenders," Peterson said. "He scored all over the court. I think what surprised some people was that he hit 3s and midway shots. He had put-back points. He's really taken his game to new heights and he's become an all-around player. Amile is very smart and makes the right play consistently.
"His IQ and ability to handle the ball, mixed with length and size, has made him multifaceted offensively. He will come after you defensively. He'll help any college program. They're going to get a McDonald's All-American. He's a McDonald's All-American, no matter how you look at it."
Many are looking to where Jefferson will commit. He's the prized jewel of Villanova coach Jay Wright and Temple's Fran Dunphy. Jefferson himself doesn't rule out staying home, but he hasn't exactly ruled out going away, either.
Two of Jefferson's buddies, Savon Goodman and Ryan Arcidiacono, are two prime local Villanova commits. They have been trying to sway their pal to stay home and make it a trio of locals that will forge the Wildcats' future.
"I hear from Ryan and Savon, it's fun and playful, it's not like they're putting pressure on me. They know Villanova is a great place, as I know," Jefferson said. "It's always good to hear someone wants you. Those two guys are really good players and to know they would want me to go to war with them is humbling. It is something I definitely think about.
"It's not just Savon and Ryan talking to me about Villanova, a lot of people are talking to me about Temple, which is another great school and another great coach. I never lived anywhere else but Philadelphia, so there is a little pressure to stay home. But at end of the day, my decision will come down to where I'm most comfortable. I also want to see and experience other parts of the country. I want to see as much as I can before I make a choice. I don't want to see one place and think that's the best without comparing it to anything else. So for now, I'm going to be patient and weigh everything carefully. I want to make sure I make the right decision."