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Winning-Plus: The 3-Point Plan of The Nets' Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Winning, Caring, and Taking a Setback With Grace
A broken ankle would be enough to break the spirit of some NBA rookies. For Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, though, it was a reminder to stick with his plan and to slow down in the short term to achieve in the long term.
He vows he will be known in the NBA as the player who "will do whatever it takes to win, is the greatest guy in the community, and cares about the game more than, in my eyes, anyone."
Hollis-Jefferson has long carried these goals. Growing up in Chester, Pennsylvania, he was always the charismatic one, the fun one, just out there enjoying life. He says this attitude was somewhat innate, but also something instilled by his maternal grandfather. He noticed how his grandfather treated everyone equally, how resilient he was, and his willingness to help anyone around him, related or not.
Hollis-Jefferson also followed the lead of his older brother, Rahlir, who now plays basketball professionally in Canada. Whether having epic basketball battles on the grass in their backyard or just running around, they were always together. Hollis-Jefferson describes his brother as the most calm, humble and patient person he knows. He wanted to be just like Rahlir.
From the Backyard to Brooklyn
The years of backyard ball, as well as playing in outdoor leagues on concrete courts in Chester, are what shaped Hollis-Jefferson into the player he is today. There, having seen "the things that kids like me see," he says, "you have to be tough. You have to have pride. You have to be strong."
By his freshman year at Chester High School, Hollis-Jefferson was a defensive specialist. Sprouting five inches that summer helped set him apart on the court, as he towered over his peers for a few years. Chester High went 91-5 in his three final seasons, winning two state titles along the way and earning him a scholarship to the University of Arizona. There, it was his attitude that mattered more than his height.
He helped lead the Wildcats to two consecutive Elite Eight appearances before deciding to declare for the NBA draft in 2015. As he announced the decision, coach Sean Miller said he'd enjoyed coaching Hollis-Jefferson more than any other player.
Leaving his teammates, coaches and the overall school environment was tough, but he says hearing his name called by the NBA commissioner on draft night was worth it. "Words cannot explain that feeling of walking on the stage, shaking the commissioner's hand," he says. "That feeling was just the best ever. . . . It's like, wow, all that hard work really paid off?"
His first season in Brooklyn was off to a solid start. He had 8 points and 5 rebounds in the season opener, then 13 points and 11 rebounds as a starter against the Boston Celtics. Less than a month later, though, he injured his ankle during a December 5th practice. Doctors at first thought he had an ankle sprain, but a CAT scan revealed a broken bone. He'll miss at least two months of the season.
No Time for Regrets
That moment that could have broken his trademark spirit. Instead, he responded with class and maturity beyond his years. "Things happen for a reason," he says. "I may be elevating too fast, growing too fast." His strong faith leads him to believe that this is just a cautionary sign to slow down.
"No matter what situation I've been in, basketball or life . . . the one common thing about all adversity—obstacles you go through—is the way you treat people going through them," he adds. "Be patient through this adversity and also good to others. You'll be rewarded for it. That's just the way life is sometimes. You have to understand that."
His plan over the next few years is to pass this message on to young students through a foundation he's creating to help youth gain perspective and build positive attitudes. "It's about showing them that you care and that you understand what they're going through, and also that there are other things that could be worse," he says. "I really want to be able to instill that knowledge and help kids overcome obstacles. We all don't know everything, and there's always room for improvement. I feel it's my job to relay these messages to youth."
It's a long-term plan, one that will require him to remain calm, humble, and patient—just as his grandfather taught him to be. And as with everything Hollis-Jefferson does, it's also sure to be fun.
Danielle Elliot is a freelance journalist based in New York. She has written features for National Geographic, The Atlantic, Grantland, Vice Sports, Yahoo Sports, and other outlets. She has produced for NBC, Fox Sports, and others.