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Commentary:While there is much excitement about a bevy of big fellows destined to do the heavy lifting for the University of Arkansas basketball squad next season, there should be some similar excitement about the guy who will be expected to drive the truck.
That would be 6-6, 190-pound junior college point guard Dontell Jefferson, currently starring this season for Atlanta Metropolitan College.
Jefferson, a young man who has grown five inches in the past two years since a modest senior campaign at Stephenson High in Stone Mountain, Ga., is the kind of star who fills the stat sheet from one side of the piece of paper to the other.
He had guided his team to a 15-6 record heading into last night's home game with Truett McConnell by scoring 16 points a contest, dishing out 8.9 assists and grabbing 7.8 rebounds per contest.
Jefferson, who committed in December to sign with Arkansas this spring, is hitting 51 percent of his field goal attempts and 41 percent of his 3-point attempts - albeit he has taken less than 50 treys.
"He is a complete point guard, a pure point guard, just a tremendously talented big guard who can do it all, " AMC head coach Robert Pritchett said. "He has already had (four) triple-doubles this season and has just developed into a wonderful, wonderful player. He is destined to be a star on the major college level."
Jefferson, who had one game this season of 25 points, 15 assists and 14 rebounds, said the UA staff has told him they are not bringing him in to sit on the bench.
"They have told me they want me to come up there and to orchestrate the symphony they are going to have going on," Jefferson said. "I'm looking forward to it."
A recent trip to Atlanta to watch him play confirms that he is indeed the type of guy that is missing from this year's Razorback squad.
Jefferson delivers his passes on time and in the right position - a problem that has stymied this year's Razorback team on many of occasions.
"One of things I think I do best is get my teammates the ball in the best possible place for them to score and that is my main concern," Jefferson said. "I think as a true point guard that is your first and most important job - create opportunities for your teammates and make sure they have the best possible avenue in which to score."
The youngster got a first hand look at things at Arkansas when he came in December for his official visit and watched the Razorbacks fall to Oklahoma State.
He was well aware of the fact that Arkansas has signed 7-0, 252-pound Steven Hill, 6-10, 265-pound Al Jefferson, 6-10, 235-pound Darian Townes and 6-8, 235-pound Charles Thomas when he committed to sign himself.
"They are just a few players away from getting it totally turned around and I am looking forward to helping do that," Jefferson said. "All of those big guys are going to make such a difference for this program and I look forward to getting them the ball along with the others already here."
Jefferson, despite coming off a 25-point effort in a loss to Coastal College in his team's last outing, is definitely a pass-first, shoot-second type of guy.
"My mom raised me to share and I just take that philosophy out on the court," Jefferson said. "Keep the big man happy, keep the scorers happy and everybody's happy."
Dontell is especially close with his mom, who raised him in a single-parent home.
"She is more like a best friend to me than just a mom," Jefferson said. "She is my heart and soul and has been there for me so much and through tough times. Everything I do is to make her proud of me and return the love that she showed me."
Pritchett is trying to get his star to make a bit more of a statement early on in games.
"Look most nights, he is the best player on the court easily," Pritchett said. "But he is humble to a fault almost. I am constantly after him and telling him that he needs to take more shots, not less. That he needs to do things at the first of the game to establish himself as the best player on the court. That he needs to intimidate the other guards at first by simply saying and proving "I am the man on this court and there is nothing you can do about it."
He did recently when he scored 20 points, dropped 8 assists and grabbed 7 rebounds and swished a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to take down Georgia Perimeter 73-70 in an upset of the nation's No. 3 juco team.
"Look, this is a special kid," Pritchett said. "Most kids come into junior college just throwing up shots and not looking for the past first, but that's now how Dontell is. He is too unselfish. He has such a great all-around game, but I am trying to get him to be more selfish. He's got to know how special he is and let everybody else know it as well."
Jefferson, a hidden gem found by UA assistant Ronny Thompson, is certainly a finisher as evidenced by throwing one down in traffic after a drive on the night I got to see him.
"They are just going to love this kid up there," Pritchett said. "Especially when he drops off a big pass to one of those big men they have coming in or feeds one of those wings for a dunk or finishes it off by getting his elbow up over that rim for a dunk."
When Arkansas first starting recruiting him back in September, the Razorbacks let it be known they were looking for a vocal floor leader.
Jefferson, who chose Arkansas over Georgia, Florida State and Clemson, feels like he is going to be that guy.
"I feel like I will be the key that makes the ignition of the offense and defense go and I will be surrounded by some great talent," Jefferson said. "I plan on being a leader from the time I step on campus on the floor and off."