Jefferson is the truest of fours…20/20 games are nothing unusual…
The Utah Jazz defeated the Sacramento Kings 103-102 last night at Power Balance Pavillion on Al Jefferson’s lay in with 0.9 seconds left. The 8th year power forward had twenty-six points, seven boards and four blocks. On March 9th the Jazz were here in Philly and being Jefferson is one of the better players in the league, I thought it would be a good deal to get him on The Starting Five’s mic. I got a sense Al Jefferson was raised right. It was noticeable Jefferson had strong people in his life ensuring he didn’t waste his talent, his mind or think everything was strictly about him. Sometimes support from the beginning is all it takes. There are many talented youth of every ilk that simply don’t have the proper people in their lives to push them in the right direction with a tough hand. Al was blessed. Averaging nineteen and nine, Jefferson has developed into a top NBA big man and the 25-22 (winners of five straight) Jazz are blessed to have him as well.
Al is alright with me because he makes it a priority to give back what he didn’t have growing up. That’s what it’s all about…
Michael Tillery: I see you with the charity stuff (Al’s website). That’s something that stuck out when researching you. Why do you seem so committed to doing the right thing?
Al Jefferson: I guess that was the way I was raised. I grew up with nothin’. I’ve been blessed, so I don’t see why I can’t give out my blessings. Young kids these days just need somebody out there who cares about them. It could be anything. That’s the way I look at it.
MT: Is being so heavily involved in charity work something you want to focus on post NBA career?
AL: Man I don’t know. I’m everywhere on what I’m gonna do post career but it’s definitely something I will continue to do as time goes by to make sure I give back.
MT: Obviously we are in an age where athletes are glorified more than a lot of people. You’re one of the top players in the league. In your daily walk, you might see people here or there. How do you represent the NBA?
AL: We’re role models. It’s kinda like…when things are going good it’s all good but when something goes bad, it seems like everyone wants to point you out. The end of the day you try to do the right things. Unfortunately, we do know things do go wrong and you might find yourself in that situation. When that happens it’s all about how you handle it.
Even when the camera ain’t on you, it’s always on you. Especially these days of twitter and all that internet stuff, you have to carry yourself as a professional at all times. If you are around your family at home, that’s a different story. There will always be eyes on you, so you gotta do the right thing.
Dealing with guys like me is part of the game…
MT: How do you deal with the media? Obviously it’s all a business and you have responsibilities, but is there a different type of reporter whom can make you talk more or do you have a general opinion of whomever is in front of you?
AL: I always show the media respect because they are doing their job. I’m always about talking and answering questions. Everyone was put on this earth to do a job. Sometime the media’s job can be rough on you, but at the same time it’s sometime the job they have to do.
AL: The NBA camps prepare you. As the media attention grew for me, I adjusted. It was never a big problem for me dealing. Sometime of course…when you lost five, six games in a row and they ask you that (losing) you (Al exhales)…but that’s their job. I always try to find the right way to answer a question as a professional. Nine out of ten times, if you stay on the media’s good side, they won’t bash you when something does go wrong (Al chuckles).
MT: Have you ever heard a question that influenced your game?
AL: I’m pretty sure I have man. Sometimes the media asks a question that may push that button and you think about it the next time you step on the court.
To give you example, they say I’m a black hole or I don’t pass the ball as well. For the most part, maybe that was true in the past and I really didn’t know how to pass consistently. You get better. I’m twenty-seven years old. I’ve been around a long time. Still have some way to go…hopefully. It’s still a learning process for me.
It’s nothing personal…all about business.
MT: You seem very mature. I’m not gonna lie to you. You seem a lot older….
AL: I averaged forty-two points a game over four people in high school. Constant double and triple teams as well. When I got in the league, I was on a bad team. I realized put of the double teams that I had to get other guys going and open and that sooner or later would get you going. This is my second year with the Jazz and once I got here…this type of offense is if you move the ball there’s open looks. It’s working for me. We have a long way to go as a team and so do I as a player but the maturity comes when we continue to build…which we are trying to do right now. It’s only going to get better.
MT: What are some of the differences between Minnesota and Utah?
AL: Minnesota is coooooold…it’s just cold. Both cities have great fans. Every year in Minnesota was a rebuilding stage. Now that they are having some success, I’m very happy for the fans. They are really good fans and stuck by us when we were going through our little trials and tribulations.
Utah has the best fans. They really support the team. Utah is smaller. The Jazz is the only pro team out that way. In Minnesota, you have three pro teams…four with hockey. Other than that, there’s really not that much difference.
MT: There’s talk of you getting in the Mississippi Hall of Fame?
AL: Yeah there’s talk of it.
MT: Small market in Utah. as you alluded to. You might not get the attention of a lesser talent as a result. How do you get show people outside of the game how talented you are?
AL: Ever since I was in high school I realized the cream will rise to the top. I never let it bother me. People know who I am. People know what I do and what I’m about. If there’s another guy out there getting more hype than me, it doesn’t bother me. I’ve been dealing with it since high school.
Sometime being the underdog is a good thing. When all the attention is on, there’s more pressure.What makes you, can break you.
MT: You have Enes (Kanter) and Derrick (Favors) over there (across the locker room). I’m sure they are looking at you to become better players. Does that challenge you?
Favors and Kanter…here defending Andrew Bynum…are Utah Jazz big man future…
AL: I definitely take them under my wing. Derrick and I had a talk. I told him that he and Enis are the future big men for the Jazz. They are nineteen and twenty years old. Raw and young…still have a long way to go but both are talented players right now. I want them to learn as much as they can from me and Paul (Milsap) and all the vets around here. With experience, the sky is the limit for them.
MT: Before you came into the league, were there specific fours and fives you looked at to build your game?
AL: I was always a big Shaq fan until he dunked on me (I laugh). He was a big man and I was a big man. Hakeem Olajuwon has always been one of my favorites. When I came into the league, I studied Tim Duncan. When I played against him, I took a lot of abuse from him but I was learning.
When Doc Rivers was my coach, he gave me a DVD of Moses Malone that I still have to this day. He told me to watch the DVD and tell him what I thought of it. I watched it and thought he and I were similar players. I studied how he rebounded. How he scored. Those were the guys I looked up to.
MT: Being a mentally tough player…is that something you can learn?
AL: My personal opinion is…it’s all about if you want it. This is a long season. Eighty-two games…this year sixty-six games. You’re playing four games in five nights sometimes. We’re playing a lot of games.
If you want it and understand you are going to have ups and downs…some days you aren’t going to feel like playing…but this is our job. You have to show up when opportunities are there in this game. This is my eighth season. This stuff goes by so fast. You look up and are like wow!
The way I look at it…you do not want to have any regrets.
MT: Al I never ask this question because I don’t ever think it’s necessary, but something tells me to ask it. Is there anyone you would like to thank?
AL: First of all God. Without him, none of this would be possible. The people who believed in me growing up and stuck with me. My AAU coach Larry Stamps. He was one of the people who told me I would be something special the first time he met me.
My two grandmothers…who raised me to be the man I am. One of them gave me tough love. The other made me understand that if I believe in God anything can happen. So definitely those three. They were there from the beginning.
Especially my grandmothers. They helped me to understand life the way I do now…
Editor’s note: Al’s Grandmother…the one of tough love that raised him…Gladys Jefferson, passed three days after this interview. She was 82. – Michael Tillery
(Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty Images Sport)
RIP to your Grandmother Al. You’ve made here proud…