Jeffers overcomes odds for shot with Wolves

Bullets whizzing past his head, Othyus Jeffers picked up the
stroller carrying his young niece and rushed her into the
house.

He hurried back out the door to help his sister, who had been
shot in the leg by her then-boyfriend during a domestic dispute.
She looked at her brother, dressed in joggers’ pants from
Illinois-Chicago University and his trademark Jordans, which almost
never left his feet. As Jeffers went to check on his sister, she
saw blood trickling out of his left pant leg and staining his
sneakers.

Two hours before the college junior was scheduled to work out
for a handful of NBA scouts to help him make a decision about
staying in school or entering the draft, Jeffers had been shot in
the thigh, and he didn’t even realize it.

”I didn’t know until she told me,” Jeffers said. ”Then when I
pulled my pants down and moved my leg, the blood squirted
out.”

Doctors told Jeffers that the bullet traveled a zigzagging
pattern through his leg, somehow missing every major artery before
exiting on the other side of his leg. In what has been a recurring
theme during his 28 years on this planet, he hardly missed a beat.
Jeffers was back on the court doing basketball drills in a
week.

”Everybody around me calls me Wolverine because I always seem
to heal up quicker than I should be doing,” Jeffers said with a
nonchalant chuckle.

That isn’t even the half of it for Jeffers, who lost two
brothers to gun violence before he graduated high school and tore
the ACL in his right knee weeks before he was set to sign a
guaranteed contract with the Washington Wizards. Now he’s fighting
for the last available spot on the Minnesota Timberwolves’ roster,
and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

”What he’s been through is how he plays,” said Wolves
President Flip Saunders, who coached Jeffers in Washington. ”He’s
hard-nosed, kind of a mad dog that just gets after it and really
competes. He basically goes at it where he understands that
nothing’s given to him.”

And so much has been taken away.

Jeffers was 8 years old when his brother, Gerome, was shot and
killed.

”My brothers always played basketball,” he said. ”They went
to AAU tournaments and things like that. So I was used to them
leaving, but I wasn’t used to them not ever showing up again. And
it hit me a little bit later, when I was nearing 9. Where’s Gerome
and where do we go from here?”

Tragedy struck again during his senior year when another one of
his brothers, Edmund, was gunned down in their neighborhood, which
was in the shadow of the United Center.

”The place I’m from, death pretty much happens on the regular.
So I kind of got numb to the feeling,” Jeffers said. ”At that
time I knew exactly what death was. I had to humble myself to the
point of where do I go from here? What do I do next? During that
time I was pretty much nearing adulthood and I was also becoming
the man of the house. I had to keep things together.”

He went to junior college in Los Angeles to get his grades in
order, then to Illinois-Chicago before finishing up his college
career at Robert Morris. He was named the NAIA player of the year
in 2008, but went undrafted. He played in Italy and the D-League
and got his first taste of the NBA in 2010 with the Utah Jazz. He
played so well for the Wizards down the stretch in 2011 that they
were ready to sign him.

During a workout that summer, he felt a pop in his right knee.
Once again, he had no idea how badly he was hurt.

”I just felt kind of wobbly,” he said. ”I didn’t understand
actually what an ACL was. I didn’t go to the doctor until a week
later.”

The same surgeon who repaired Derrick Rose’s knee did the
procedure on Jeffers, who sat out the lockout-shortened season and
the Wizards withdrew their qualifying offer. After a year of rehab,
Jeffers got a tryout with the Phoenix Suns in training camp last
year and spent the rest of the season in the D-League.

When Saunders took over in Minnesota this summer, he noticed a
need for some defensive tenacity on the perimeter and immediately
thought of Jeffers.

”He really has his priorities in order and he has a real
appreciation for where he’s from,” said Wolves assistant David
Adelman, who coached Minnesota’s summer league team. ”It shows on
the court. He’s proud of where he’s from and what he’s been through
and it shows in how he plays.”

There’s one spot open on the roster right now. Jeffers is in the
mix along with Robbie Hummel and Lorenzo Brown. If he finds a way
to make it, he knows that it will only give him a stronger platform
when he goes home to his troubled neighborhood to try to provide
inspiration to kids who are besieged by drugs and violence every
day.

”I took the long road. I didn’t go to a big-time school,” he
said. ”Everything I did was something the normal or average kid
could do themselves. They just need the push. They just need to be
educated.”

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