Jefferson Likes the Feeling of Coming Home

South Carolina gained their fourth commitment of the 2009 class, junior college forward Johndre Jefferson of NW Florida State. The Holly Hill, SC, native ventured down to the sunshine state for his first two years of college, but he's happy to be coming home to the palmetto state for his final two years. The sophomore forward committed to the Gamecocks just before the Tennessee game.

South Carolina has been scouring the junior college ranks for a big man who can come in and help them immediately next season. After evaluating untold numbers of players, they found and offered Johndre Jefferson, a diamond rapidly emerging from the rough. When Jefferson graduated from Lake Marion High School in 2007, he epitomized the word "project." But South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn knows what he wants in a player, and he wants Jefferson on his team.

Despite inheriting a team short on numbers, Horn had one commitment to the previous staff and one player on the roster leave before the season. Jefferson fits Horn's mold of a big man who can run the floor and catch the ball in transition. Jefferson talked about Horn's system and how he sees himself fitting into it. "He (Horn) likes to get up and down the court, and me being an athletic person, I like to run a lot." he said. "His system pretty much fits me perfectly. I think I'll be a better player in his style."

His current school changed its name while he has been there, from Okaloosa-Walton to Northwest Florida State. The NWFS Raider's coach Bruce Stewart is closing in on 650 career wins as a head coach, and has coached some major talent in his 12 years at the small school in Niceville. The coach told the local Florida Freedom Newspapers that Jefferson is the most improved player he's ever coached.

"When he came in I didn't know if he was going to make it," Stewart told the paper. "He was soft and he was mentally weak. I had my doubts that he would make it, but he's hung in there, battled and gotten tougher." But the coach "saw a world of unrealized potential. Jefferson's length and size were immediate upsides, but he hadn't yet grown into his body and was weak underneath the basket."

"When I first saw him he was extremely long and thin, but he had great reach and he could jump," Stewart said. "I thought with our weight program, three meals a day, playing against physical competition in practice every day that he would get stronger and fill out." And he has improved to the point where Stewart feels he could now have a professional career down the line. "He's been away from home, he's matured and that whole package has started to come together," Stewart said. "It has produced the player that is now putting up excellent numbers."

NWFS finished their season 21-7, and Jefferson averaged 9.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

The newest Gamecock talked about his decision process. Having received offers from Mercer and UAB, he finally got the one he wanted from South Carolina. Though other SEC programs like LSU, Mississippi State and Alabama were showing increased interest, he had what he wanted. "I have been talking to them (the USC staff) the whole year. I was being recruited by Coach Mike (Boynton) and Coach Horn."

As he took his official visit to Columbia, his comfort level increased to the point where he was ready to commit. "They took me around and had me meet some great people," he said. "They made me feel real comfortable. The coaches talked a lot about motivating us to get our academic work done, not just playing."

Jefferson says he is adept at playing either the four (strong forward) or five (center) position. "They're not going to limit me to a five or a four. They just want me to get out there and play. If I can shoot, then I'll shoot."

South Carolina lost an important game to Tennessee Thursday night to a Tennessee team whose big men dominated the game. The Florida Freedom paper described Jefferson as the Raiders' "do-everything hustle player and low-post threat," something the Gamecocks need. They hope they got it Thursday in Jefferson.

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