Hollis-Jefferson leaving Arizona, declares for NBA Draft
Arizona coach Sean Miller could be losing every starter from this year’s team. On Tuesday, sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was the first player from that lineup to declare for the NBA Draft.
Hollis-Jefferson, in a prepared statement that lasted 70 seconds, thanked Tucson and Arizona fans for their support during his two years at the school.
"The love has been overwhelming," he said as part of his statement. "It’s not every day a kid where I am from (Chester, Pa.) gets an opportunity like this. I’ve tried to embrace it."
After reading the statement, Miller joked he hadn’t seen his sophomore "more serious in my life."
And so, the college career of Hollis-Jefferson — one of the most popular Arizona players in recent memory because of his enthusiasm, wide smile and athleticism — has come to an end. He averaged 11.2 points this season and led the team in rebounding with 6.8 per game, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors. He also led the team in blocked shots with 32. He never lost a game in McKale Center and played in two Elite Eights, losing to Wisconsin both times.
"The only thing left on the table was (not) playing this weekend (in the Final Four), which bothers us greatly," Miller said.
But if this was how it was going to end, Miller was fine with it.
"I don’t know if I’ve enjoyed coaching a player more than I’ve enjoyed coaching Rondae," Miller said.
Miller said it’s now his task to find another player or two like Hollis-Jefferson, one who works hard and is a competitor. The coach added it’s more than likely that Hollis-Jefferson has influenced a potential recruit to go to UA because of how he played.
"That type of player translates into a lot of great moments," Miller said. "In terms of legacy, in terms of on the court, he leaves as a great winner. Off the court, he was not only a great citizen but a very well-rounded student."
Hollis-Jefferson, who said he had made up his mind a week or two ago, said he will take correspondence courses to complete this semester. He has hired an agent and will start the process of preparing for the draft in June.
"He did everything the way we wanted him to," Miller said. "It’s very obvious he has a chance to be an NBA first-round pick. And with his efforts, his stock will only soar."
Draftexpress.com praises his defensive ability, energy level and athleticism but expresses concerns about his undeveloped offensive skills.
"At the NBA level, Hollis-Jefferson has the potential to be a great role player for a team with his lockdown defensive ability and the energy he will bring. His current offensive tools don’t project him to be anything more than a role-player at best, but if he can improve his perimeter skill-set, he could turn into a more well-rounded player. Many NBA teams will be itching to have a player with his athleticism and motor, and Hollis-Jefferson should be able to contribute on both sides of the court."
In making his decision, he said he hadn’t been looking for a specific draft placement. His talent, he said, will make his decision a good one.
"When it’s time for me to get those workouts and show what I can do, just attack it," he said. "Go hard and show them I’m able to compete with the best of the best. My game will speak for itself."
— R.HollisJefferson (@RondaeHJ23) April 8, 2015
That game, for now, is defense and hustle. At Arizona, Hollis-Jefferson (6-foot-7, 220 pounds) defended everybody from Oregon guard Joseph Young to Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky. He sometimes guarded up to four positions in the same game.
"His ability to rebound and defend multiple positions, there aren’t many like him," Miller said.
"I think his scoring will grow and improve as he learns the NBA game and is around NBA coaches and players. His well-roundedness will come in time."
Miller added RHJ doesn’t "bring one skill to the table. He brings amazing versatility."
It was perhaps fortunate Arizona had Hollis-Jefferson for more than a season. On Tuesday, he admitted he "was on the fence about going" last year but returned because, "I thought it was in my best interest to come back, to try to do more and show my leadership skills, (to do) the little things I could have done better. And that’s what I did."
Now what will his former teammates do?
Point guard T.J. McConnell has completed his eligibility. Miller said it’s likely that junior forward Brandon Ashley will be the next player to make his decision public, perhaps in the next couple of days. Arizona is still waiting on decisions from freshman wing Stanley Johnson and junior center Kaleb Tarczewski.
"It’s not a problem; it’s a great thing, it really is," Miller said of guys leaving early. "The old adage as a coach and teacher is you always want to help guys grow."