Google search “Dewayne Jefferson”, and click the first link that you see on the list of sources containing the name. It should lead you to a Wikipedia profile which shows a short, brief paragraph about an American professional basketball player.
A West Point, Mississippi native Jefferson is well traveled. And even though the Wikipedia page does not fill in the blanks, I want to make those blanks disappear and fill them in with his story.
So you may be asking, who is Dewayne Jefferson?
It was Wednesday afternoon when I met up with Dewayne at the West Point High School gym on the hardwood which has given him so many opportunities. Two goals with hoops attached on opposite ends and a rectangular court was Jefferson’s passport for a professional playing career in the European basketball leagues.
Finding Jefferson back in Mississippi reminded me of something I always hear. “You can leave Mississippi, but you will always come back.” And that seems the case with Dewayne as he has returned to his hometown and high school alma mater of West Point. At the age of 33, Jefferson gave me a recall of his career and life up to this point...
Playing at West Point High School, Dewayne was an under the radar player as he received very few looks from college coaches. Yet the famous Lafayette Stribling saw something special in the lanky guard from Clay County. And even though it took a two year stint at East Mississippi Community College, Jefferson remained loyal to the first coach that recruited him and landed at Itta Bena.
“It was exciting, Coach Stribling, brought me in and was really the first coach to show major interest in me. Even with offers from other places, I didn’t want to go any where else but Valley State,” commented Jefferson about playing for Stribling and Mississippi Valley, “My junior and senior years were the best years of college I could have possibly had. We were more like a family and I still stay in touch with many of my teammates to this day.”
Rising to prominence in his senior year of college, Jefferson was making some serious noise. A 6’3” shooting guard, Dewayne was playing an outstanding brand of basketball, setting records in the process. With accolades such as leading the NCAA Divsion I in three-pointers made and the second leading scorer in the 2000-2001 season, Jefferson was making splashes in many channels.
Like in any sport, Jefferson wanted to play in the highest level of the game. “I was pushing trying to go to the NBA, but it just turned into a mission,” said Jefferson in regards to playing professionally, “Ultimately I just wanted to play basketball, it did not matter whether it was the NBA, Argentina, or Europe, I just wanted to play ball.”
Traveling from tiny Itta Bena to Izmar, Turkey, Dewayne found himself in a new place far away from Mississippi. While tackling a language barrier, going to the grocery store, and learning to drive a manual car, Jefferson was setting the Turkish league ablaze on the court with Pinar Karsiyaka. In his first appearance, Jefferson scored 31 points against one of the top teams in the country. The great start to his professional career in Turkey led to a Scoring Champion Title for the 2002-2003 season.
“It took a little while to get adjusted with the rules being a little different,” said Jefferson about the transition and playing overseas, “But the better the team I play, the better I am going to play. It motivated to play better every game because it was something new and it was something I really wanted.”
After one season in Turkey, Jefferson made a move to Dynamo Moscow where he found even stiffer competition. Dewayne commented on how tough the league was and that was one of the better leagues in Europe. As his career continued in Europe, Jefferson said the level of competition continued to rise year-in and year-out. Now with more European players in the NBA, Jefferson points to the influx of American-born players and the hard work of European players for the rise in basketball talent on the continent.
Jefferson was still playing in 2009, until an Achilles tendon tear seemed like a minor set back. After rehab and an attempt to get back into the game, Dewayne opted to retire from the game he loved following a second Achilles tear.
“I had an evaluation from a doctor who told me that I had weak ankles,” said Jefferson in regard to his injuries, “I decided I did not want to risk any further injury so I decided to retire and hang my sneakers up.”
Now Jefferson is off the court, playing the role of substitute teacher in the West Point School District. Yet he is not fully removed from the game of basketball as you may have spotted the retired pro court-side with the West Point Green Wave this season. Dewayne now serves as an assistant coach for head coach Brad Cox and his squad. Jefferson sees this opportunity to give back and make an impact within his hometown.
“It is full circle, mainly because I want to give something back. In West Point, basketball is an overlooked sport and with all the talent I see in the city from Zuber Park to the recreational leagues, I see folks that could have played with me overseas,” said Jefferson, “I want to give back to youth and show them there is more than the NBA.”
While making an impact in the community, Jefferson is making sure he finds the outlets to do so. Throughout my conversation, I could tell that the game of basketball was in Dewayne’s heart. And I honestly feel like he summed up it best in closing.
“I absolutely love the game of basketball, it is a passion to me,” said Jefferson about his love for the game, “I remember when I was little, going to the bus stop with a basketball and shooting the ball at my basketball goal before the bus pulled up. It is such a beautiful sport, seeing the ball go through the net and playing in competition just makes it something I love.”