Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski often describes his team as a metaphorical fist, with five working as one unit infinitely greater than five individuals. For that to happen, a great team needs a glue guy who can play multiple positions, raise the energy level, and bring up the play of everyone around him.
Whether this team becomes great remains to be seen, but it appears to have a glue guy in Amile Jefferson.
Krzyzewski praised Jefferson for having the two characteristics most associated with glue guys—energy and versatility.
“Amile is that guy who doesn’t have a position. He plays the big [and the] perimeter,” Krzyzewski said. “But you know—you are watching the game—when he comes in, the life meter goes up. He is more enthusiastic than the crowd. He is not watching the game, he is playing the game, and he is playing the game with gusto.”
But for Jefferson, the energy is something that comes naturally—contagious energy is as much a part of his identity as his lanky 7-foot-2 wingspan or ability to finish inside.
“I know if I can get an offensive rebound and put it back, that will bring some energy on the offensive end,” Jefferson said. “On the defensive end if I get a block or a charge or a deflection, then that can bring the energy and that helps me to get comfortable…. That’s really what I do—try to get hyped—so when I do touch the ball it doesn’t feel strange or awkward. I’m just doing what I love to do.”
Although Jefferson may have been more enthusiastic than the crowd, the two certainly had the effect of building one another up. Thursday night, he made several key plays to bring the crowd to a roaring crescendo. While Jefferson put up excellent statistics overall—13 points on 6-of-10 shooting with five rebounds and a block—his game was defined by sequences of hustle plays that helped Duke build momentum.
In one such sequence with two minutes left in the first half, Jefferson prevented Winston-Salem State from ending a 20-3 run by blocking a layup attempt by the Rams’ Joe Thompson. On the ensuing inbound play, Jefferson’s dogged defense drew an offensive foul from the frustrated Thompson. After each play, Jefferson exhorted the Cameron Crazies to get to their feet. The small crowd on hand for the exhibition obliged in appreciation of Jefferson’s effort.
And as much as the crowd loved Jefferson, the feeling proved to be mutual. Jefferson, a Philadelphia native who always speaks quickly, lights up and gushes about the Cameron Crazies when asked about his interaction with the crowd.
“Growing up you hear about the Cameron Crazies and how much they impact the game. That’s amazing,” Jefferson said. “I’m just loving it. I love getting them into it, hearing them yell, cheer, feeling the floor shake. That’s getting the other team rattled, and I know that’s giving us an advantage because we’re used to that. We’re feeding on that.”
When the regular season begins and Cameron Indoor Stadium really fills up, Jefferson will have even more energy on which to feed.