Sports | Men's basketball

Amile Jefferson hopes for his NBA shot after long career with Duke men's basketball

CAMDEN, N.J.—The colors on the floor were familiar for Amile Jefferson.

He was in blue, playing opposite white—just as he had for the last five seasons in Durham.

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By Ian Jaffe / Chronicle File Photo

Jefferson was a three-time captain for the Blue Devils and an effective low-post scorer in his last two seasons.

Back in 2012, the No. 25 ranked recruit in the country had a choice between several of the nation's top college programs. Now, Jefferson just hopes that one of the NBA's 30 teams picks him.

Monday's workout at the Sixers Training Complex was the 14th in the last two months for Jefferson, who is finally ready to sit back and possibly hear his fate once the 2017 NBA Draft gets under way Thursday night at the Barclays Center in New York.

Unlike former Duke teammates Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard, Harry Giles and Frank Jackson, Jefferson's name has yet to appear on mock drafts and top prospect lists. But the consistent low-post ability the 6-foot-9 forward showed throughout his college career was on display for the Philadelphia 76ers' brass as Jefferson returned home to the City of Brotherly Love.

"It’s an amazing feeling," Jefferson said. "Just to be here and walk in my [hotel] room and see that Sixers shirt, having grown up watching guys like Allen Iverson and Aaron McKie. Just being able to come back and have this opportunity for the team I loved growing up was nothing short of amazing."

But Philadelphia was just one of many stops on a whirlwind tour for the four-time All-ACC academic team honoree.

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By Lily Coad / Chronicle File Photo

Amile Jefferson spoke of his ability to defend every position but point guard as a skill that could translate to the NBA.

After starting out in California with Kennard—the two share the same agency—he traveled everywhere from Atlanta to Charlotte to Utah to Denver. Following workouts with former teammate Matt Jones for both the Hawks and Nuggets, Jefferson visited San Antonio this weekend before ultimately coming home.

"The growth that I’ve been able to have in these eight weeks has been incredible, and to get to play with guys like Luke and Matt again outside of Duke has been wonderful," Jefferson said. "Competing with those guys and against them at these workouts and training has helped me grow. And we already have a good relationship, so it’s been really cool."

Twelve of Jefferson's former Blue Devil teammates are now in the NBA, ranging from a trio of top-three picks selected in the last three drafts to a pair of players who worked their way through the NBA Development League into a full-time contract.

Although Tatum may join the former group come Thursday night, it is likely that Jefferson will have to wind up in the latter on his way to the highest level.

Fortunately, though, the Duke brotherhood has been in full effect, giving one of its own plenty of insight into the challenges of making the transition from college to the pros.

"I’ve had a lot of great people to lean on, whether it be in the Duke program or here in Philadelphia or people with my agency," Jefferson said. "It’s a process and the biggest thing is having great grit and great character through everything. I’m understanding that this is my own race and I’m running my race, and to just be diligent in this process no matter where it takes me."

Blue Devil fans certainly know Jefferson's biggest strengths. A three-time captain, he has carried his leadership abilities from the college ranks. His booming voice was unmistakable during 3-on-3 scrimmages Monday that included Kansas' Frank Mason III. 

Besides being a leader on and off the court, Jefferson is a tenacious rebounder and defender. Last season, he ranked sixth in the ACC in rebounding at 8.4 boards per game and third in blocks with 1.9 a night.

He repeatedly mentioned his ability "to guard [positions] two through five," even at the pro level. And after suffering a right foot fracture that forced him to sit out the last 27 games of the 2015-16 season, Jefferson took a step forward on the offensive end of the court, though that improvement was somewhat stunted when he suffered another foot injury in January.

His game and body leave him as somewhat of a tweener in the NBA. At 6-foot-9 and 225 pounds, Jefferson could play a hybrid wing-forward role at the next level, but in his Duke career, Jefferson never attempted a single 3-pointer and did not average double-figure points per game until his last two years. On top of that, he is just a 57.5 percent career shooter from the charity stripe.

"Understanding what it takes to be a pro, I think I get it," he said. "Some of the things I do translate really well, especially on the defensive end.... For me, being able to rebound is something I think I can do at any level, having already played against 20 to 30 percent of this league in college."

Jefferson lived out his college dreams at Duke, winning a national championship in 2015, but the 24-year-old is fighting an uphill battle to break into a league that is quickly getting younger.

Since the one-and-done rule was implemented a little more than a decade ago, fewer and fewer four-year players have been selected at the top of the NBA Draft. In DraftExpress' most recent mock draft, just two seniors are projected among the top 40 selections—with Villanova's Josh Hart and Mason, the 2017 National Player of the Year, slotted in the final 20 picks.

But after making the most of his Blue Devil career in a school-record 150 collegiate games, Jefferson is prepared to do whatever it takes to put on an NBA uniform someday.

"It would be a dream come true," Jefferson said. "It’s what you think about every night before you go to sleep, from when you were a kid until now. Dreams haven’t changed and it’s a process. No matter how I get there, I’m going to be really grateful when I do."


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