Too soon to tell where Amile Jefferson is headed

jgiglio@newsobserver.comMay 4, 2012 

Boys McDonalds All America Basketball

McDonald's West All-American Amile Jefferson (25) from Philadelphia, P.A., controls the ball during the first half of the McDonald's All-American boys' basketball game Wednesday, March 28, 2012, in Chicago.

NAM Y. HUH — Nam Y. Huh - AP

Soon. With Amile Jefferson, the key word through his recruiting process has always been “soon.”

Pursued by N.C. State, Duke, Kentucky and Villanova, the McDonald’s All-American is supposed to make a decision about his college basketball future … wait for it … soon.

That’s what he said to a local media outlet in Philadelphia this week, and it’s the same thing his high school coach said in an interview, but that was two weeks ago. The schools still pursuing the talented forward are waiting, as are their respective, increasingly anxious fan bases. Jefferson said Tuesday that he’s “still up in the air” about the decision, which has the potential to tip the balance of the ACC race in either Duke or State’s favor.

Which school will it be? Only Jefferson, a 6-7 forward from Friends’ Central in Philadelphia, knows and he’s not ready to make up his mind.

“I definitely didn’t think it would take me this long, but it’s been a great process and I’m honored that these schools would stick with me so long,” Jefferson told the Main Line Media News. “I’ll probably pick a date soon.”

Jefferson’s not alone in limbo. Two other forwards on ESPN’s list of the top 30 prospects, Anthony Bennett (No. 7) and Devonta Pollard (No. 28), have yet to select a college. The top prospects in the class, top-ranked forward Nerlens Noel (Kentucky) and second-ranked Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA) waited until the Jordan Brand Classic in Charlotte, three weeks ago, to make their decisions.

It was widely speculated that Jefferson, the Gatorade Player of the Year in Pennsylvania, was waiting for N.C. State forward C.J. Leslie and Duke forward Mason Plumlee to make their decisions about the NBA draft.

“If that was the case, this would be done by now,” ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep said.

(Both Leslie and Plumlee are coming back to their respective schools, and both made their decisions before April 20.)

“I really think it’s a matter of he is having a difficult time saying ’no.’”

Jason Polykoff, Jefferson’s coach at Friends’ Central, recently said that Jefferson, who averaged 19.9 points per game as a senior while leading the team to a fourth straight state title, was never waiting for Leslie or Plumlee.

“I know he’s more concerned about the system of play,” Polykoff said. “How does it fit him? He just wants to win, so if guys are coming back, that’s going to help the team.”

How much help Jefferson will supply remains the second-biggest unanswered question. Both Duke, which went 13-3 in the ACC a year ago, and N.C. State, which finished 9-7 in league play before reaching the NCAA tournament’s regional semifinals, need frontcourt help. And both teams, along with a revamped North Carolina and 2012 champion Florida State, will be considered front-runners in the ACC for the 2012-13 season.

The Wolfpack returns four starters, including Leslie and Richard Howell at forward, but it lost senior DeShawn Painter, its top forward off the bench last season. Painter decided to transfer to Old Dominion to be closer to his ailing grandmother in Norfolk, Va. Sophomore reserve Tyler Harris, who would have had a chance to play more minutes this upcoming season, decided to transfer on Wednesday.

Duke returns Mason Plumlee and forward Ryan Kelly, who will both be seniors, but it has no proven depth with the loss of Miles Plumlee. Josh Hairston, who’ll be a junior, and Marshall Plumlee and Alex Murphy, a pair of freshmen who both redshirted last season, are the only other forwards on scholarship on the roster. Forward Michael Gbinije, a top-30 recruit from last year’s class, transferred after one season.

It’s unclear whether Jefferson would start for either Duke or State, but Polykoff said Jefferson would find his niche.

“He has such a high basketball IQ,” Polykoff said. “That’s part of the reason why he’s so highly-touted. He can do more than just score.”

Jefferson, who played more of a traditional, in-the-post role at forward in high school, averaged 10.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game for Friends’ Central. At 190 pounds, he has room to add strength to his long frame.

Telep believes Jefferson can be a complementary player as a freshman, rather than a dominant force.

“He’s a good player but he’s not an impact guy in terms of coming in and reconstructing the program,” Telep said. “He’s one of those guys that has a knack for finding the ball and making plays.”

Telep, who lives in Wake Forest, has previously said he believes Jefferson will end up in the Triangle, but he hasn’t talked to Jefferson, who he has known for four years, recently. The spring signing period ends May 16, but Jefferson can still make a decision after the deadline.

Polykoff said the attention, and speculation, has been overwhelming at times for Jefferson.

“He has handled it great,” Polykoff said. “But I think if he had it to do it over again, he would have probably made a decision sooner.”

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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