One of the best parts of watching the Washington Wizards run out the NBA slate has been Othyus Jeffers. He's got a great name, and an even greater story.
Growing up in a tough Chicago neighborhood, he had two older brothers shot and killed on the way to the grocery store—in separate incidents.
While in college his sister's boyfriend, Andre Childs, began to beat her. "O" returned the favor. The boyfriend later returned with a gun, firing shots into both Jeffers and his sister's leg—even as the couple's child sat nearby.
Perhaps most telling was Jeffers' reaction to the incident. Asked about Childs' incarceration, Jeffers said, "Not that I understand, but I know why he did what he did...For him to lose years of his life…"
Forgiving the guy that shot you and potentially derailed your hoop dreams? A selfless action like that belies maturity bred from growing up in difficult circumstances—from seeing more crazy things than anyone should ever have to.
"O" left the hospital the night of the shooting, despite doctors asking him to stay overnight. He used crutches for three days, instead of the recommended three weeks. He was playing full-court basketball by the end of the month.
This is one tough dude.
Out of high school he played for LA Southwest, a Los Angeles community college, where he put up 22 points and 11 boards a game. He performed well enough to earn offers from Big East and Big 12 programs.
Instead of transferring to a big college he took a year off and moved back closer to his family, enrolling at Illinois-Chicago where he would earn Horizon League "Newcomer of the Year" and average 14 points and eight rebounds in his two seasons. Then the shooting occurred, and he no longer felt safe in the neighborhoods he'd known since he was a kid—neighborhoods just outside the Illinois-Chicago campus.
His last year of college eligibility was at Robert Morris college, where he posted 21 points, nine rebounds and two steals a game in winning the conference POY award and the conference championship.
Jeffers was able to match those stats in his two D-League stints, and made the All-Star team in his first year while taking home ROY honors. He led the league in John Hollinger's PER rankings, despite his second season being cut short by a stint in Italy and a call-up by the Utah Jazz.
Noticing a trend? Everywhere Jeffers has gone he's received accolades. Playing up to the level of your competition is one of the best success indicators out there.
Now for a closer look at Jeffers' game.
He's an amazing athlete—explosive around the rim and on the glass. Despite being 6'5", he alternated playing time between the 2, 3 and 4 positions. He's got a motor that never seems to run out of gas, and can be a lockdown defender at multiple positions.
Those traits have shown through even at the NBA level.
Unfortunately, his strengths and weaknesses don't define his NBA position or role very well. He's got the body of a shooting guard, the defense and athleticism of a swingman and the ability to fight for rebounds with power forwards.
But his ball-handling and lack of shooting ability make him a potential liability in the backcourt, and his height makes defending frontcourt players difficult—even if he can jump with the best of them. At 25 he's unlikely to grow, and some scouts feel he lacks the upside of younger D-League talents.
But I disagree. Jeffers reminds me a whole lot of Tony Allen. An awkward and inefficient jump shot. Explosive athleticism. Attention to defense. A motor that doesn't idle.
Allen was a key component of the Boston Celtics' recent playoff teams, and really came into his own last year providing solid scoring and defense in the playoffs. It earned him a decent offer in free agency, and Boston might now regret letting "Trick or Treat" Tony walk for only $3 million a season.
Also worth noting: Allen has made big strides over the last few years, and seems to be improving even at 29 years old. He made a four-point jump in PER this past year alone. Jeffers is four years younger, and has never had consistency going for him—either in life or basketball.
I, for one, would love to lock Jeffers up to a multi-year deal at a minimum salary level. He provides a bunch of things the Wizards lack: defense, toughness and rebounding ability. He's a class act, mature beyond his years and, from all indications, a good teammate.
Because of his physical talents he has upside, and would be a great addition to a young team looking for an identity.
Note: Biographical information is taken from a USA Today piece written on Jeffers in 2008. Thank you to Marlen Garcia for doing the legwork.