Chantel Jennings of ESPN.com tells the story of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the Arizona Wildcats defensive specialist who forged his game playing against older competitors on the Seventh Street blacktop courts in the gritty town of Chester, Pennsylvania.
Hollis-Jefferson, a projected first-round selection in the NBA Draft (should he opt to leave school for the pros), developed his defensive mentality during heated one-on-one games against his older brother, Rahlir, who played at Temple from 2009 to 2013.
Jennings writes: “Usually Rahlir would win, but every time he did he would tell Rondae that he needed to get better. He had to find ways to exploit his opponents and use his own strengths—whatever they were—to define his game. Rondae needed to learn, Rahlir would tell him, that he had to make sure he always won his last game. As long as you win the last game, you’re the champion.”
Jennings interviewed Hollis-Jefferson’s childhood AAU coach, Hassan Muhammad, who offered perspective on just how advanced the teenager was in his preparation and mentality for the game of basketball. “They played all over the country and faced players like Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle,” Muhammad said. “Hollis-Jefferson always wanted to be matched up with the opponent’s best player, but in these types of games his team typically lost.
“A lot of my kids would get upset, but Rondae would wear it,” Muhammad continued. “He’d wear that loss. He didn’t want to eat. He didn’t want to go back to the hotel or pool. He didn’t want to play video games with the other boys. He wanted to prepare for the next time he saw those kids. That’s exactly what he would do. He’d remember Rahlir’s advice: You constantly needed to find a way for you and your team to get better so you could win that final game. So when most 14-year-olds went back to the hotel after AAU games and slept or relaxed, he gathered his teammates and coaches in a single hotel room.”
During his senior year at Chester High School, Hollis-Jefferson was the subject of a STACK.com feature video. His coach at Chester, Larry Yarbray, explained how Hollis-Jefferson’s experience playing against older guys translated to his success in high school. Yarbray said, “You could see the competitive nature in him as a youngster. He used to get mad, he used to get frustrated when he lost, but he didn’t have enough supporting players around him. He pretty much had to do everything by himself at a young age. That’s why he’s a point forward. He used to get the rebounds and have to dribble it up the court, because his teammates couldn’t break the pressure. So he found ways to win, and by doing that, it made him more versatile.”
Check out the video at the top of this article to see the “One to Watch” video featuring Hollis-Jefferson.