Big Al Does Something New

Dudley Dawson ventured into Mississippi for a few days of scouting Arkansas' next wave of hoopsters. Here's his take on what he saw of Al Jefferson in post-season action.

JACKSON, Miss. - University of Arkansas basketball signee Al Jefferson has done some wonderful things on the basketball court before, but surprisingly had not done one thing until Friday night.

That was win a Class 3A Region 6 district championship.

The 6-10, 255-pound Jefferson accomplished that by pouring in 56 points, grabbing 17 rebounds and blocking 11 shot to rally second-seeded Prentiss past top-seeded Crystal Springs 80-77 at Richland High School.

"I wanted this real bad because as crazy as it might sound, it's something we have never gotten done," Jefferson said. "Even last year when we won the state title, we didn't win the district. It feels so great. It means a lot to me even if people don't understand it."

Jefferson, named Thursday to play in the McDonald's All-Anmerican game in Oklahoma City on March 31, was all businesslike during the game but showed tremendous emotion at the end.

"I try to be calm and just take care of my business on the floor, but I want to win so much and put my heart into every minute on the court," Jefferson said. "When it was over I could just let go and I did."

Regarded as one of the nation's consensus top six high school players, Jefferson - who has lost 10 more pounds on a diet - put up some phenomenal numbers on his stat line.

He was 22-of-28 from the field and 12-of-19 from the free throw while scoring over 50 points for the second straight night.

The young man did all this while constantly having a defender in front and a defender behind him and even through some triple teams.

"I could get and used to get frustrated with all that, but I don't anymore because I am so used to it," Jefferson said. "I just taking the bumping, deal with it and go on and play my game."

Jefferson, now averaging over 41 points, 16 rebounds and 6 blocks per game, had to bring his team back from a 17-point deficit right before halftime.

It was a first half when Jefferson poured in 25 points, but also one where his team made what seemed like that many turnovers.

"Coach said a lot in the locker room - a lot," Jefferson said of Prentiss head coach Lonnie McLemore. "I knew I had to come out and lift my teammates up and I did and they all played great. When I step it up, they all step up and I love them for that."

Crystal Springs, the last team to beat Prentiss, led 49-32 right before halftime.

But Jefferson scored 15 points in the third quarter to get his team back within 60-53 by the end of the frame.

Prentiss (21-7) kept coming, tying the game three times before a Jefferson block led to a lay up on the other end and a 72-70 lead for the Bulldogs.

Jefferson would give his team the lead in the late stages a trio of times, the last on an old-fashioned 3-point play with 38.7 seconds left that put his team up 79-77.

A late free throw capped the scoring and Jefferson twice altered shots in the final 13 seconds as Prentiss completed its comeback and next moves onto the regionals.

"What a win, this was just great," Jefferson said. "Now we just got to keep it going and try to win this state title again."

There has been much speculation that Jefferson will jump straight from the prep ranks to the NBA with most mock drafts currently slotting him as a late first-round pick.

"I have really not been thinking about that much right now," Jefferson said. "I have been taking care of trying to win another state title and then I will play in the all-star games and then think about it."

He knows most people in Mississippi expect him to make the leap.

"I can't say for sure that I won't, but all those people are just guessing," Jefferson said. "Right now I am planning on going to Arkansas and joining with the rest of our great recruiting class and just getting it on up there. That sounds like a lot of fun to me, I know I can get better and the NBA will always be there."

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