Jeffers Took Long Road, Making Most Of Wolves Camp Invite

Jeffers Took Long Road, Making Most Of Wolves Camp Invite

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Othyus Jeffers takes nothing for granted. After Wednesday’s practice he spoke with local media for close to 10 minutes, shaking each reporter’s hand before and after his Q&A session and introducing himself individually to each person. During those 10 minutes, he used the word “blessed” at the end of several answers because, simply put, that’s how he feels.

Three years ago, he had the opportunity to work his way onto the Washington Wizards roster and gain precious playing time under coach Flip Saunders. He gained their trust on the floor and worked that into a situation where he closed in on a guaranteed contract after the 2010-11 season.

But that offseason, the NBA entered a lockout while working out the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. During that lockout in July, while working out in his hometown Chicago at Tim Grover’s famed Attack Athletics facility, Jeffers suffered a torn ACL. His qualifying offer retracted, Jeffers sat out the 2011-12 season before playing last year in the D-League.

Now, he’s in camp with the Timberwolves battling for the final spot on a 15-man NBA roster. The undrafted 28-year-old is essentially battling Lorenzo Brown, Robbie Hummel and A.J. Price for that final spot—all younger, all formerly drafted. Jeffers has taken a longer road to this opportunity, and because he’s traveled that road he feels incredibly grateful for the opportunity. He’s working to showcase that every day.

“I feel like I’m bringing something to the table where the team may be lacking right now,” Jeffers said. “If I get that opportunity, if they bless me with that situation, I won’t let them down.”

Wings that play relentless defense are a premium in the NBA. The shooting guard and small forward positions offer little reprieve in this league—teams are forced to guard elite scorers and athletes every night. To have someone on your roster who can handle that, embrace that, is an important asset.

Jeffers prides himself on being that guy. He’s humble and respectful, but he carries an edge on the court that makes you believe he strives to be the best, most tenacious defender on the floor at any given time. Yes, he can score—Jeffers averaged 21.6 points per game during his final collegiate season at Robert Morris in 2008—but defense is where he’s found his niche.

During Summer League in July, playing on the Wolves’ roster alongside mostly a rookies and younger players without NBA experience, Jeffers stood out. He played for three NBA teams over two seasons from 2009 to 2011, picking up tricks that could help him individually while participating in winning cultures fostered by Jerry Sloan in Utah and Gregg Popovich in San Antonio.

After the ACL tear and recovery, it took time to get his next opportunity to once again taste the NBA. He got that shot with the Wolves this summer, and he made it pay off.

“He just really competes hard—he’s been really fun to watch,” Wolves assistant David Adelman said while acting as the team’s Summer League coach in July. “But I would say beyond that he’s got a special skill set. He’s just very competitive. He likes to get behind the lines and play.”

This Timberwolves team is built to score, but the major question mark is whether or not it can consistently defend. Their perimeter players, aside from small forward Corey Brewer, are not known for their defensive tenacity.

Jeffers feels like he can be that spark. He’s confident he can defend point guard, shooting guards or small forwards. And he feels like the more time he gets to prove himself, the better of he will be. When Saunders gave him his shot in Washington, he got quality minutes against top NBA teams—he defended, he scored, he rebounded. Then he began seeing more confidence in him.

“I did a lot of things people knew I could do but never knew I could do it at the NBA level,” Jeffers said. “I got to showcase that, and I’m here now to let them know I can do it again.”

During Training Camp, he’s gaining that respect again.

Wolves assistant coach Terry Porter said he can see the defensive intensity and grit Jeffers brings each day. His physicality stands out, and his work ethic on defense is challenging the Timberwolves’ starters—making them better.

Shooting guard Kevin Martin said he’s the type of player who tries on every possession to get under your skin.

“You always want that type of player,” Martin said. “The Tony Allen-type players, just not afraid when you’re up against anybody.”

The way this camp is shaping up, there will be no easy decisions about who will remain with the team once the regular season beings. But Jeffers, like he always has, is not worrying about that. He’s putting his head down and going to work each day. If he does that, he’ll put himself in the best position possible.

“I’m not even thinking about being one of the guys that could be voted off,” Jeffers said. “I literally feel like I’m on the team. I’m waiting for that time to be ready when they call my name.”

Jeffers has worked hard to achieve everything he’s gained in the sport. He’s using that same philosophy this preseason with the Wolves.

“I’m a student of the game,” he said. “I wouldn’t be around this long if I didn’t do my homework. Again, when my time is called, I’m always ready.”

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