Al Jefferson Q&A — On Age Limits, Never Making All-Star, Jordan & The Best Athlete from Prentiss, MS
Jefferson, a native of Prentiss, MS, breezed into Washington yesterday evening with his effortless-looking post-offense, proceeded to “humble” Marcin Gortat, and then gave his Charlotte Bobcats a big win over a fellow playoff contender. If anyone makes work in the post look ‘easiest’ it’s Jefferson. Hell, his moves were so fluid and his touch so soft that he didn’t even earn a trip to the free throw line en route to scoring 26 points on 20 shots (missing seven)—11 of his attempts came right at the rim, where he made nine.
This season, Jefferson is putting up the second best PER of his career (22.8, tied with 2011-12 season in Utah), and is shooting his best FG% (.506) since his third season in the league. Before Wednesday night’s contest against the Wizards, TAI spoke with Jefferson on a variety of topics. Leggo…
You’ve been to the playoffs twice in your career, once with Boston and once with Utah. So what does it mean to you now to be back in a playoff chase for a franchise like Charlotte?
It feels good to look how far we’ve done came. But, not only is just making the playoffs our goal, we want to make moves in the playoffs. I think we’re on the right track We’ve just got to continue to take it one game at a time.
You’ve never been voted onto an NBA All-Star team. What does that mean to you… Or, how much of a travesty do you think that is considering what you’ve done in your career?
I mean, I don’t let it bother me no more. I’ve been around long enough to understand how this thang go. So, this means more to me, coming to Charlotte and doing the unthinkable, doing what a lot of people are afraid to do: signing with a team like Charlotte, a small market team. And also, taking on the challenge of trying to turn this franchise around … kind of like the same thing they did here (in Washington). You look at three or four years ago, Washington was in the same boat as Charlotte. I think we’ve both made big steps to becoming playoff teams.
I’m going to give you a quick quiz, taking you back to Prentiss, Mississippi. Who is the second best athlete to ever come from Prentiss? (This was, of course, sort of a loaded question. I went to college with a guy named Michael Gholar, also from Prentiss. Gholar played basketball in the SEC at Mississippi State for four years, and then somehow found some eligibility to play a year of football. He was simply an awesome athlete; he also loved lots and lots of beer.)
Aw, man… I’d have to say I’m the second best. I’d have to say the first best is Michael Gholar.
That’s exactly who I was going to say… (Worth noting: Prentiss is a town of about 1,500 people.)
Yea, Michael Gholar was a …. I seen him around my birthday, he’s still a heckuva athlete. So I’d have to say I’m the second best athlete from Prentiss. Yea, he was an amazing athlete, man.
You committed to Arkansas (over LSU and Mississippi State) out of high school, but then chose to enter the NBA. Now, there’s a 19-year-old age limit; they are thinking about moving it up to 20. What do you think of that?
Man, I mean, I don’t know… If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I think some of our best stars to ever play this game came out of high school. Take it back to Shawn Kemp, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady. But I’m not against guys getting that experience in college, either, because that was something I missed out on coming into the NBA, playing two games a week out of high school to four games in five nights in four different cities. It was a big change for me. But I just think these athletes these days will always adjust, whether they have to go to school for two years, or one year, or come out of high school, we’re always going to find a way to adjust. That’s why we’re (NBA players) are some of the best athletes in the world.
I’m going to read you one of your quotes from August. You said (to Grantland’s Zach Lowe): “My pick-and-roll defense is my weakness. And that’s mind over matter. I just gotta suck it up, get my ass out there, and do it.”
What has progressed since then to change your defensive game?
Starting with coach (Steve Clifford), man, because if you don’t do, he’ll sit your ass down. [Laughs.] But we’re top 10 in defense, and I’ve never been on a team that’s been high like that in defensive ranking. It’s effort, it’s mind over matter. And like I said, you have to do it, not only for the team, but for myself. For being a leader, you set the example. Because if I go out there and do it, the backup bigs feel like they have to do it.
What is different about Steve Clifford’s offensive system from the one you experienced in Utah?
If you go back and look at them old Houston games with Yao Ming, and Dwight Howard’s game with Orlando, it’s the same kind of offense. Figuring out ways to get me the ball closer to the basket. And once I get the ball on the block, it helps out so many people. Either I’m going to score or get my teammates involved. And it’s been working for us. At the beginning of the season, our offense wasn’t where our defense was, but now I think we’re becoming a better, balanced team.
[Note: Clifford, head coach of the Bobcats, had previously been an assistant coach with the Knicks ('01-02), Rockets ('03-07), Magic ('07-12), and most recently, the Lakers ('12-13).]
Out of high school, you were invited to Michael Jordan’s camp in California and ended up being chosen to play on the same team with him during a game toward the end of camp. Have you ever brought that up with him, or spoken about memories of young Al Jefferson?
Naw, we haven’t said much. I said that I wanted to make some new memories to talk about. Like coming to Charlotte, making the playoffs, advancing in the playoffs. I want to make up some new memories. But those were some of the best days of my life, just to have the opportunity to go out and be on the court with the best player who’s ever done it. It was just amazing.
What are some of your new memories now? Like, does Jordan come to practice? What is something that’s stuck with you?
One of the things that really stuck with me—he kind of comes in and shows his face, we’ve probably seen him six times this whole year, he’s really been letting the coaching staff do their job—but he came in last home game and just told us how proud he was of us, but we still have a long way to go. To me, that was a great honor to hear the best player really respect and acknowledge the things we have done so far this year, BUT also let us know that we still have a long ways to go and let’s keep fighting.
Now have you ever played Jordan in one-on-one?
No, I would never play him one-on-one. He’s not fixing to hurt my feelings. I know he’s still got some tricks up his sleeve.
I read somewhere that you have a $23,000 bed.
First of all, the bed really wasn’t $23,000. I put a rush on it, it was $15,000. It’s 12 feet long and 10 feet wide.
Does it have a remote control? Are there bells-and-whistles? Or is it just a big-ass bed?
When you go to sleep, you have no worries. You feel so comfortable in it. Plus it’s just a big bed. I like to roll over four or five times and I’m still in the middle of the bed.
(Questions below were posed by TAI’s Adam McGinnis.)
Do you feel any vindication in your decision to sign with Charlotte with you guys solidly in a playoff chase?
I don’t think about stuff like that. I made a decision to come here because I loved the coaching staff. Coach Clifford really sold me. And then I looked at the young tools that we had here—we had Kemba Walker, MKG, Jeff Taylor—and I just figured with me, with my game, we really had a chance to do something special. That is what I thought from the very first beginning and so far, so good, and I still think that now.
You talk about taking a young team and trying to make it better. With the rookie Cody Zeller, how have you taken him under your wing or showed him the ropes?
To be honest with you, with him, he’s a very smart kid, a talented kid. With him, it’s all about him getting experience under his belt. And you can tell from the beginning of the season until now, he’s a totally different player. He’s got his confidence and he’s understanding the game a lot better. So there really wasn’t much that you had to just show him—only thing you had to show him was to be a better rookie. You know, he don’t know how to be a good rookie … doing his chores and stuff, but he’s getting better at that.
Who looked out for you when you were a rookie?
Gary Payton… He looked out for me.
He doesn’t say much, does he?
[Laughs] He says a lot … he says a lot.