Cory Jefferson knows the label, but he’s not worried about it. He’s even used it as a hashtag on Twitter.
That’s the not-so-glamorous title with which the final player taken in the draft is christened. The perception is that the last pick of the second round is unlikely to make much of an impact in the NBA. History has sometimes borne that out.
But Jefferson wasn’t a history major at Baylor, and even if he had been he’s more interested in changing that perception. If Jefferson’s recent stint in the NBA’s Summer League is any indication, he could prove more relevant than even the Brooklyn Nets may have expected.
“Most games I felt I played pretty well,” Jefferson said. “There were a few games where I didn’t meet my actual goals. But, personally, I think with the minutes I was given I was productive.”
Jefferson averaged 11.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in the Nets’ five Summer League games, which wrapped up Friday in Orlando, Fla. Always a fierce finisher at the rim, he made 21 of his 30 attempts from the field, a blistering 70 percent.
But Jefferson knows that it’s a LeBron James-like leap from the Summer League to actual NBA competition. There are areas in which he knows he must get better. Namely, he must add beef, which isn’t so easy as venturing into Brooklyn’s most popular meat market and placing an order.
“For my own game, building up my strength is the biggest thing,” Jefferson said. “That’s something I’ve got to work on every year, and I know that. So I’m going to be working hard at building strength and adding muscle.”
While Jefferson wore No. 34 at Baylor — along with his signature shooting sleeves — he switched to No. 21 with the Nets. It wasn’t an accident, either. When Brooklyn’s equipment manager asked Jefferson what number he wanted, he opted for 21 as a tribute to his former Bears teammate Isaiah Austin.
Austin was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome prior to the draft, putting an end to his basketball career.
“Isaiah and I didn’t talk about it. It was just something I wanted to do. We were that close,” Jefferson said. “We spent a lot of time together over the past few years, and he lived right next to me. . . . That brotherhood of being from Baylor will always keep us connected.”
Jefferson’s own journey has been marked by persistence. He rode the bench his first two years at Baylor — including a redshirt year — averaging just 2.7 points and 8.2 minutes per game. But he stayed with the process, kept honing his game. He developed into one of the Bears’ top players his final two years, averaging a team-best 13.7 points and 8.2 rebounds in the 2013-14 season.
“He’s been a hard worker and a great teammate, and those are the things that the NBA looks at and appreciates,” Baylor coach Scott Drew told the Trib prior to the draft. “He’s a winner.”
That doesn’t mean Jefferson has a guaranteed spot on the Nets. The 6-foot-9 forward will still have to grapple with veterans like Kevin Garnett, Andray Blatche and Andrei Kirilenko for minutes in the Nets’ frontcourt. Playing time may come at a premium.
If watching and learning is what it takes, Jefferson said he is happy to do so. “Sitting on the bench is not really too hard for me,” Jefferson said. “I’ve always been the kind of person who cheers on his teammates, who lets everyone know they’ve got my support. When the coach calls my name, I’ve just got to be ready to bring the energy.”
He may have the perfect temperament for an end-of-the-bench player, but Jefferson’s confidence that he could play in the NBA never diminished, either. He said that several teams were interested in taking him earlier in the draft but wanted him to start his career overseas, and he wanted to avoid that route if possible. He planned to latch on with someone via free agency when his family came bursting into the room, screaming that the Spurs had picked him with the draft’s final selection.
Moments later, San Antonio sent Jefferson to Brooklyn in a trade.
Yeah, he was picked last. So what? At least he was picked, which is much more than thousands of basketball players can say.
“It’s not too much of a motivating factor, me being picked last,” Jefferson said. “I actually missed the call when I was drafted. They came running in the door, my friends and family, and said they’d announced that I’d been picked. It worked out pretty well. I’m just glad that I had the confidence to know I could play in the NBA, no matter when my name was called.”
BEAR FACTS: While Jefferson’s summer-league stint is complete, three other former Baylor players find theirs just getting started. Quincy Acy is playing for Sacramento in the Las Vegas Summer League, while Brady Heslip will suit up for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Quincy Miller for the Denver Nuggets.