There are two sides to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
There’s Rondae, the outgoing kid with the big heart and energy for days, the one who bought his mom a house, busts a move for Nets fans at open practices and serves coffee at Borough Hall. He’s friendly and outgoing, embracing the opportunities that come with being an athlete in the big city.
Then there’s Hollis-Jefferson, a fierce competitor, a student of the game who wants to be its master. He practices like he plays, bringing intensity to the court, staying late to work on his shot and range. He spends his time listening and learning all he can from his coaches and teammates.
“When you come in here, you want to learn about your job and what you have to do to become better and become great,” Hollis-Jefferson said between sips of Gatorade after being one of the last guys off the court at Tuesday’s practice. “You have guys like Joe [Johnson], Jarrett [Jack] and Thaddeus [Young] who’ve been around for a number of years who can help you get better and help you learn the game. You also build relationships when you seek information from guys. They want to tell you; they just want to see if you want to know the information.”
He’s hungry for that information the vets know he wants it. Young, who is second on the Nets with 7.3 rebounds-per-game, said Hollis-Jefferson reminds him of a younger version of himself.
“Really high energy, really active and just looking to get better each and every day,” Young said. “He’s taking the time to shoot with some of the coaches and taking that time after practices to get better. He’s definitely a guy that wants to be the best at his craft and wants to continue to work. He shows it each and every day.”
The Nets traded for Hollis-Jefferson at this year’s draft, sending Mason Plumlee to Portland after the Trail Blazers selected Hollis-Jefferson 23rd overall in the first round. The Arizona Wildcat has been as advertised early in his NBA career: a strong defender with a desire to test himself against the best. In his first NBA start last Friday night against childhood hero Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, Hollis-Jefferson finished with 11 rebounds, three assists and a steal. The next night, he grabbed seven boards to go with five assists and three steals. Maybe it’s because he’s only 20 years old, but he seems to have endless energy on the court.
“Right now the biggest aspect of his game that’s really helping him now is that he’s athletic and he can run,” Young said. “He’s very good defensively, he likes to pick up the ball, pressure the ball and get it to guys and speed up opposing teams.”
Hollis-Jefferson was all business against the Lakers, even in the times he was guarding Bryant. After the game was a different story, as Rondae got a picture with Kobe, flashing a big Rondae smile, realizing another one of his dreams.
“My first game and then also playing Kobe… those moments are truly a blessing,” Hollis-Jefferson said when asked to name his ‘welcome to the NBA’ moments.
For what it’s worth, Bryant, who is in the twilight of a Hall-of-Fame career, said he follows the careers of players who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, like Hollis-Jefferson, who hails from Chester, Penn.
“It’s special, every kid that comes out of that area,” Bryant said. “I’m always watching and pulling for them.”
Hollis-Jefferson said the biggest adjustments from college have been mindset, preparation away from the court and learning the pro game. He said college games are always played hard because a smaller and more spread out schedule makes every game vital, but the mental challenges are just different at the NBA level. Of course, thinking the game has to be coupled with hard work.
“You have to learn how to grow as a person on your own,” he said. “And all of these things that you learn inside the game with your coaches and your vets, you have to implement it into your day outside of this. That’s the hardest thing.”
His career is still in its infancy, so there are ups and downs, but he feels that he’s improving.
“I feel like that’s the hard work being put in, it’s starting to show,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “If I keep working hard and keep progressing in practice and when I’m by myself, it’s going to turn over to the game.”
Rondae’s becoming one of the more popular Nets off the court, as his energy radiates out and draws people in. As a person, he enjoys putting himself out there, saying he only has one life and he has to enjoy it.
So after Tuesday’s practice, when he’s told TNT may want him to participate in some off-court contests against other NBA rookies, potentially doing some on-the-spot poetry, he agrees. He wouldn’t put himself in that situation if he didn’t enjoy it.
Hollis-Jefferson’s on-court reps are done for the day. Time to go back to being Rondae.