Back when Ryan Kelly went down with a foot injury against Clemson, just about every Duke fan went into the quietist of panic modes. They were entirely justified when you consider the man replacing him, Josh Hairston, had scored just 25 points and 31 rebounds in 15 games, with most of those stats coming against some of the weaker opponents on the Blue Devils’ schedule. I’m not saying Hairston is bad at basketball. In fact, Hairston is probably better at basketball than everyone who reads this post, but the Blue Devils should never find themselves in a spot where they have to rely upon Hairston to play significant and productive minutes. Yet, here Duke was, relying on Josh to play twenty-five solid minutes against a group of North Carolina State forwards who are far more talented and athletic than the 6’7, 240 lb junior.
Hairston actually wasn’t that bad in his first start in Kelly’s absence, scoring 8 points and grabbing 5 rebounds. He struggled on defense, which was expected, but he could’ve performed a whole lot worse given the circumstances. Still, it was evident that Duke needed something more – someone who could be more than ‘not that bad’, at least until Kelly came back.
Insert Amile Jefferson.
Even before the Kelly injury, many Duke fans in the Twitterverse were calling for whatever minutes Hairston was receiving to be given to Jefferson, citing his non-stop energy and enormous potential. The counter-argument for this was that Jefferson was too young and inexperienced, as the freshman had seen little action in the early part of the season and hadn’t produced enough during his action to warrant more playing time. It was a near unanimous opinion that he would be a good one, it was just WHEN he would be a good one that most people weren’t sure of.
So, when Jefferson trotted onto the court against the NC State Wolfpack, a team with infinite talent at the Forward position, I really wasn’t sure what to expect out of him. Here he was, a freshman who might not be ready for ACC competition, about to take on one of the ACC’s most talented teams. Would he even be touching the court if Kelly wasn’t injured?
Jefferson would only play twelve minutes against the Wolfpack. They were, however, one of the more entertaining twelve minutes we’ve seen from a Duke player over the entirety of the season. The 6’8, 195-pounder from Philadelphia never stopped moving, playing with an intensity and energy on both ends of the floor that I hadn’t seen all year from anyone on Coach K’s squad. By the time his playing time was up, Jefferson had collected 10 points, 4 rebounds, and the use of all five of his fouls. Jefferson’s night would end prematurely and Duke would go on to lose their first game of the season, but it appeared that the Blue Devils had found a new playmaker, someone who would make the loss of Kelly sting just a little bit less.
We all saw what happened next. Jefferson wouldn’t take over the starting role immediately, but his minutes took a substantial leap in Duke’s next contest against Georgia Tech, jumping from twelve minutes to twenty-eight minutes, while Hairston’s fell from twenty-five to eleven. By the next game, Jefferson would find himself in the starting Power Forward role for the No. 1 ranked Blue Devils. It was a quick rise to fame, but it was well deserved.
Amile hasn’t been perfect. He has flashed signs of being an inexperienced freshman, which will happen when you are, in fact, an inexperienced freshman, he isn’t strong enough yet in the post to be a dominating force, and his mid-range game still needs a ton of work. While he clearly isn’t fully developed, yet, he has made his best effort to make up for it in just about every way possible. He has proved that the NC State game wasn’t a fluke, putting the same amount of energy and hustle into every single second he is on the floor. He goes for every loose ball, fights for every rebound, and moves around so much that you have to wonder if he is secretly wearing Heelys instead of regular shoes. His intensity doesn’t cause him to play out of control on offense, for the most part, as he is shooting at a 52.3% mark on the year. Defensively, he has shown immediate improvement in his biggest problem area: avoiding foul trouble. Like I stated before, this is the guy who fouled out in twelve minutes against NC State. It appears he has taken a smarter and more understanding approach the last couple games, collecting only three fouls in each game. I’m sure Coach K made it a point to get the freshman to understand that you have to conserve your fouls when you are getting significant playing time, and it appears Jefferson listened.
I gave him the nickname ‘infinity’/ ‘∞’, a salute to his non-stop motor on the court. Players with as much enthusiasm on the court as Jefferson tend to become fan favorites quickly, and it appears Amile is well on his way to becoming just that.
This has been your Amile ‘∞’ Jefferson appreciation post. I am excited as can be about the future of this guy. How about you?