In his most recent media session, Coach K said you were getting back to full speed and over your injury…so, what exactly happened?
Amile Jefferson: Early in the offseason I tweaked something and it just didn’t feel right. I had a chance to meet with our trainers and some doctors to figure it out. They all thought the best thing for me was to just rest and take some time off. Really it was just the wear and tear from last season, which was a tough one with a long banging. Since it was the summer and we had time, we figured it was best to take our time and get healthy.
So, it was a hip injury, then? Coach mentioned you’re just now working to find your explosion again…
It was, but the time off has helped me get back. Once i was cleared to return things felt like they always did, and I can get up and down the court really well. I don’t have my normal explosion because of the extended time off, but that’s coming back. We are working on lifting with my legs now, so that I’ll be back to full strength.
Another thing Coach K mentioned was your communication on the floor. Is that something you work on?
It’s definitely something I work on, and it’s great to hear Coach say that. It’s just part of my game and part of who I am as a player. I’m a guy who tells my teammates where to be, or if they need someone to lift them up, I’m there for that too. It does come naturally, but I want to make sure I’m doing it on a level where guys respond to what I’m saying as well.
Last season you played center, but this year it seems you get to move back to the four spot with Jahlil Okafor in town. Is that something you’re looking forward to?
It’s going to be great to have someone like him on our team. He’s going to be banging down there and he’ll be such a presence that draws a lot of attention. That’s going to free me up to really attack the offensive glass and I’m going to pride myself on doing that. Jah is such a big target, that I’ll have a more space to find it easier hitting the glass.
Following up, it seems like this could be your year to showcase a bit more of your game, right?
Well, playing alongside him is going to make things easier, and so I have to really focus on boarding at a high level. When I am isolated, there won’t be as much help coming from the defense because they will be so focused on him. I think I’ll be able to face up and post up more than I have before and I’ll be able to make some jumpers too.
Aside from that, what areas of your game have people not seen that may show up this year?
Just how ball friendly I am. I can put the ball in the right place, whether that’s finding my teammates or putting the ball in the basket, or going one-on-one. I feel like I have some big shoes to fill this year.
You’ve been on two very different teams over the last two years. As a freshman you played with seniors who got you guys to the Elite Eight whereas last year the team didn’t do so well down the stretch. What lessons have you taken from those two contrasting years?
I’ve learned that being a leader takes a full-time commitment. You have to commit yourself to being great before the season and before practice starts. March is so brutal for teams, and no matter how good your season has been, a bad March can define the year.
On that topic, the coaches and trainers have said the off-season training is different this year…
It’s been very intense. We have done a lot of running drills, and it’s been so tough on us down to the point of the team being forced to pick each other up at times. The weights and conditioning have been an awesome challenge, but it definitely helps us prepare.
I wanted to go back to last season, when Coach mentioned that leadership was a challenge at times for you guys last year. How does that change this season?
Well, it could have definitely been better. We were a good team last year, but we learned we can’t be satisfied with that. We have to strive to be better. We have to work to not only accomplish our goals, but to go above and beyond. We need to push ourselves at the end to go down the road less traveled. We have to be worthy of being a great team.
One thing you will most likely be a part of this season will be Coach K’s 1,000th victory. Is that something you guys talk about?
For me, having a chance to be on the front row for history is special. It’s going to be a memory that lasts forever, and I want to make the most of it. My time at Duke is a gift, and I do understand that I need to make the most of it each year. It’s a special opportunity.
You’ve also had a chance to have some neat off the court experiences over the last two years, what are some of your favorites?
I think the training camp with did at the Army base was great. We got to bunk in the barracks and then got up early to do P.T. and then the ropes course after that. It was a bonding experience for the team, but also a great chance to meet the military guys and see what they do. It brought us all closer for sure.
We also did the Duke elevate trip last year, which really was a different kind of thing. It showed us all the opportunities afforded to us by attending Duke, and showed us what Duke can do for us away from the court. It was a great trip to New York, and seeing the tower was powerful.
Going back to this season, and now being an upperclassman, how do you guys integrate a freshman class into the team when those guys are going to be, most likely, a big part of the team?
It’s easier because they are such a close group. They are so connected and they have come together really quickly. They came in knowing what it means to be a Duke basketball player, and they picked that up really quickly, and didn’t need what a typical freshman class needs as much.
Last question…we’ve seen that you guys are going to have the throwback uniforms as an option against this year. Honest answer here, which is better between the all whites and the traditional ones?
Honestly, I like the throw backs because of the feel and the way they fit with Cameron, and the fans seem to like them as well. But, I’m more of a traditional guy, and really like the traditional look.