Rondae Hollis-Jefferson came from Chester High School in Pennsylvania, a program that's won a record eight state titles since 1983. And now Hollis-Jefferson is not only extending another winning tradition at Arizona, he's become a bonafide star.
For a McDonald's All-American, Hollis-Jefferson came to Arizona with little to no hype. Despite being a consensus top 15 recruit, he didn't get the media firestorm that all of the other incoming freshman stars did. I don't know why, maybe they thought he wouldn't be able to emerge on Arizona's talented roster.
Hollis-Jefferson hasn't just emerged. He's broken out onto the scene Kool-Aid Man style
. Considering his wrecking-ball, Tasmanian Devil-esque style of play, that's an apt description.
Despite his relatively quiet entry to the college basketball world, Hollis-Jefferson's game is making big time noise. And now that he's starting for the Wildcats, the bandwagon is going to get full, fast.
Unlike the other big name freshmen around the country, Hollis-Jefferson isn't a star because he scores in bunches or because of his high usage rate. The key to Hollis-Jefferson's stardom is in his effort and energy, and his incredibly well-rounded skill set.
Did you know Hollis-Jefferson has grabbed an offensive rebound in all but one of Arizona's 23 games so far? He's collected multiple offensive rebounds in 17 of those games. That's a product of relentless effort. Despite coming off the bench for most of the year, Hollis-Jefferson is responsible for 22.8% of Arizona's offensive rebounds, and is just seven shy of Aaron Gordon's team leading 69.
But Hollis-Jefferson isn't just a rebounder. He has more assists than anyone besides TJ McConnell and Nick Johnson. Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski lead Arizona with 22 blocks each, Hollis-Jefferson has 21. He has the third most free throw attempts despite playing the second fewest minutes of the rotation players.
That's what he was able to do as a sixth man, playing around 24 minutes a game.
As a starter, his impact is going to sky-rocket. In just the first game after Brandon Ashley's heart breaking, season ending injury, Hollis-Jefferson stepped up to the plate with 14 points and a season high 10 rebounds. Then he set his season high in points (16) one game later.
But the void left by Ashley won't be easy to fill, and more minutes doesn't always translate to increased production. But Hollis-Jefferson has certainly inspired the confidence of his teammates.
“He’s a warrior, I tell him that every day," McConnell said of his fellow Pennsylvanian. "If you have that warrior mentality, they can’t take that from you."
McConnell was quick to heap praise on Hollis-Jefferson, who has provided a consistent spark to Arizona's attack.
"He just goes out there and outworks people," the junior point guard said. "We know we’re going to get that from Rondae every night.”
Indeed, Hollis-Jefferson has been a reliable player all year long. But he continues to improve at an alarming rate and has showed no signs of slowing down. He's tallied double digit scoring in each of his last three games, and he's hit the mark in five of his last seven.
So what we have is a player that comes from a winning history, plays with constant effort and intensity, impacts the game in a variety of ways, and is improving on a seemingly game to game basis. And this player was humble enough to accept and embrace coming off the bench.
Yes, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a star, and he belongs in the discussion of the country's best freshmen like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, or whoever Kentucky's revolving door is currently featuring.
Of course, he's far from a perfect player. In fact, he has some pronounced weaknesses, like his mid range and perimeter jumpshot. He also has a tendency to play out of control, and can make questionable decisions when playing too fast.
But the reason why Hollis-Jefferson has been successful, and the heart of why he has become a star player, is that he has a gamer's mentality. No matter the opponent or matchup, Hollis-Jefferson has found ways to contribute. When his shot isn't falling, he crashes the boards. When defenses won't let him create off the dribble, he finds cutters for easy baskets. When the opponent gets into a rhythm, he locks them down on defense.
When the bright lights come on, some stars shine more than others. And Hollis-Jefferson burns hotter than the sun when he's on the court.
Maybe Sean Miller put it best when characterizing Hollis-Jefferson's play.
"In terms of the positives of Rondae, when the chips are down, he rises to the challenge," Miller said after Arizona's home win against Oregon. "He didn’t just do it tonight. He's been doing it the whole year."