There were a few minutes in 2014 where Cory Jefferson thought he was a Spur.
San Antonio selected him with the last pick in that June’s NBA Draft, No. 60 overall, a pick that was traded to Brooklyn that night.
Almost three years later, Jefferson is an All-Star in a Spurs jersey – an Austin Spurs jersey. Leading Austin in total points and rebounds this season, Jefferson will play in the 2017 D-League All-Star Game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday on NBA TV.
“I probably thought I was going to San Antonio for a few seconds on draft night before my agent told me I was in a trade,” Jefferson said. “If I could actually be a Spur some day, that would be everything coming full circle and a dream come true.”
Since going to Brooklyn on draft night, the Spurs are Jefferson’s fourth organization. He played 50 games for Brooklyn as a rookie in 2014-15, and then spent 2015-16 with the Phoenix Suns and D-League’s Bakersfield Jam. Jefferson signed with Cleveland for training camp in September, but was waived before the regular season and acquired by Austin.
Jefferson is a native of Killeen, about 50 miles from the home of the Austin Spurs, the H-E-B Center. His mother, Fancy Pace, served 21 years in the Army and was stationed at Fort Hood.
With family and friends in attendance for many games, Jefferson is averaging 15.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
“He’s been nothing but a great player to coach from day one,” Austin Spurs coach Ken McDonald said. “We want to show off his athletic ability because he has the versatility of a base around the basket and a mix of perimeter shots.”
Jefferson was a strong inside presence in college at Baylor, recording 14 double-doubles as a senior. With incredible athleticism at 6-foot-9 and 218 pounds, Jefferson was a runner-up in the NCAA dunk contest as a senior.
He’s since worked on his range and ability to play outside to find a place on an NBA roster.
Jefferson attempted 16 total 3-pointers in 58 career NBA games, making two of them. This season, he’s shooting 38.6 percent (27 of 70) from 3-point range as he continues to work on stretching the floor.
“I’ve always had the shot,” Jefferson said. “I just didn’t utilize it as much because I was doing everything I could to fit the team’s demands and roles set out for me.
I’m allowed to play more freely here.”
He has been excited to play in an organization that has placed a high focus on its D-League franchise. Of the 15 players on the San Antonio Spurs roster, nine have played in the D-League. It’s the first time in franchise history that the majority of Spurs players have D-League experience.
The Spurs are tied for second in the NBA among franchises with the most D-League alums. Detroit has the most with 11, including two former Austin Spurs in Aron Baynes and Boban Marjanovic.
Back in 2014, Jefferson said he was projected as a second-round pick after his time at Baylor ended, but fell to the last pick because some teams offered to take him earlier under the condition that he played overseas as a “draft and stash.”
Jefferson wanted to stay in the states to prove himself instead, to prove he could make it in the NBA. Even if that meant extended time in the D-League.
“It might have been a gamble to go to the D-League, but you have to believe in yourself,” Jefferson said. “I chose to bet on myself and I know I can add to an NBA roster.”
On Saturday, Jefferson will have the chance to showcase his growth in the D-League All-Star game.
If he doesn’t get a call-up by March 9, San Antonio fans will get a chance to see Jefferson and Austin Spurs play at the AT&T Center, against Nate Robinson and the Delaware 87ers.
“The Spurs organization really uses their development program and people are watching what’s going on every day in the D-League,” Jefferson said. “That’s really encouraging. You know if you keep working, your opportunity will be there. If I don’t get a call-up today, all right, that’s fine. Tomorrow’s a new day.”
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