While the Austin Spurs have had several roster changes this season from trades, signings and the influx of players coming north on IH-35 from San Antonio, there has been one constant all season – Cory Jefferson.
That was until the fan favorite was waived recently. While this could be a head-scratching move to some, it was clearly a decision made with Jefferson’s best intentions in mind, with an overseas contract waiting and no playoff future for Austin.
While Austin may not be playoff-bound, Jefferson surely made an impact on the team in his stint this season.
Austin made a move in the offseason to acquire the Killeen native from Northern Arizona – a move that paid dividends over and over again.
Jefferson likely never thought Austin, Texas would be a stop on his career roadmap. He teamed up with Isaiah Austin at Baylor and made a deep run into the NCAA tournament before being drafted by the Brooklyn Nets.
Jefferson reflected on his journey after a recent Austin Spurs vs. Delaware 87ers game at the AT&T Center. While the 6-9 forward has had other memories from his stints with the Nets and Phoenix Suns of suiting up in the AT&T Center, he also remembered playing against highly-touted Creighton, led by Doug McDermott years ago in the Sweet 16, with Baylor winning by a blowout.
“(The Austin game) was a good experience. We had our NCAA tourney here too, and I played a few times with Phoenix and Brooklyn. Definitely some good memories here,” Jefferson recalled.
Jefferson’s professional basketball career has not seen the same heights as his collegiate career, but Jefferson remains committed and patient. He may not have caught on with Brooklyn or Phoenix, but the D-League gave him the chance to fight for his next opportunity.
While the NBA did not come calling yet this season, he was named an All-Star and was one of the most consistent players on coach Ken McDonald’s roster before leaving to play for the Alaska Aces of the Philippine Basketball Association.
Count McDonald among those in the camp that had been surprised Jefferson did not receive a phone call from an NBA executive this season.
“I am a little bit (surprised he hasn’t been called up). He’s been really consistent, as consistent as anybody, any big in this league and he’s an all-star. I really thought it would happen by now. I still think it’s going to happen but he keeps plugging away,” McDonald said.
“Cory’s a great kid from right up the road, but he’s not too anxious or disappointed. He’s just playing and brings it every night. He’s had a great year and he’s been a fun guy to coach, but honestly I really hope he gets an opportunity soon.”
When San Antonio found themselves with an open roster spot recently, many expected Jefferson would get that fateful call, even if for a 10-day contract. Instead the Spurs signed Joel Anthony.
But Jefferson is not without opportunity, as he was signed by his current team to replace a player who had to leave the team for personal reasons.
When I spoke to him back in San Antonio, Jefferson seemed content to continue to play and stay patient, hoping his hard work would be recognized.
“I just continue to play the way I play and whatever happens happens. There’s not really much else I can do other than that,” Jefferson said. “I just control what I can control so that’s what I’ve been trying to do and hopefully I’ll get a call sometime soon.”
Playing the way he plays has fared well so far for Jefferson. Jefferson provides the Aces a versatile big man who is comfortable both in the paint and on the perimeter. He had formed quite a defensive tandem in Austin with Charles Garcia and Livio Jean-Charles.
“That’s just us being us. Me, Liv, Chuck, we all are playing our game and that just reflects out there and we have great chemistry whenever we’re playing,” Jefferson said. “I believe we’re some of the best bigs collectively in the league.”
As the NBA postseason nears, several teams will be looking to add depth as they shape their playoff rosters. If that call comes, Jefferson will be ready. If not, Jefferson will do what he always does – just keep playing. But don’t expect the Aces to be the last stop on his professional basketball journey.