Judging by his colorful personality and his, let's just say, bold suit game at the NBA Draft, it's reasonable to assume that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a pretty laid-back guy. However, the 20-year-old rookie has had to overcome countless obstacles to become the 23rd overall pick and now a key piece of the Nets' future
A lot of them he overcame on a well-tended piece of asphalt in his hometown.
Hollis-Jefferson grew up in Chester, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia and a city regularly named to lists of the most dangerous and violent cities. His mother, Rylanda, worked two jobs just to get by while his father was often out of the picture, in prison, not around.
Rylanda, a dietary supervisor by day, a bartender by night, would work day and night, tending to Rondae and his brother, Rahir, when not on the job. Like so many, Hollis-Jefferson avoided falling into the drowning pool of urban life because he found a savior on Chester's Seventh Street courts
At the Seventh Street courts, where Jameer Nelson and Tyreke Evans had molded their games, Hollis-Jefferson honed his, become like them "a Seventh Street hero," as the Philadelphia Inquirer called the pros who emerged from the courts framed by a railroad overpass
"It's tough to make it out of this city," Zain Shaw, a local trainer, told the Inquirer last week.. "With all the violence running around, for Rondae to put all that stuff to the side, put it all on these courts - and show the kids that that's OK - that's incredible."
RHJ became a McDonald's All-American at Chester High School where he caught the eye of Arizona head coach Sean Miller. Miller saw the hustle on the floor and more importantly, the confidence. "I don't know if I've ever enjoyed coaching a player more than I've enjoyed coaching Rondae," said Miller the day last April when Hollis-Jefferson announced he was leaving Arizona.
He never forget Seventh Street. Even in high school, kids say, he would pull them aside on the courts. "School comes first," he'd say. "Don't be scared, just play."
He donated sneakers. He stayed out of trouble. And on the night of the Draft, he brought 40 kids from the courts to Barclays Center aboard a charter bus, gave them some snacks to feast on as they traveled up the Turnpike, many on their first trip to New York. RHJ paid for it, helped by some private donations.
"The idea, the trip, it was all Rondae," said Rylanda Hollis. "He has these kids' backs, because he knows, at his age, he would have loved that kind of experience."
RHJ's tenacious style of play and his hard-work mentality seems like the result of his experience in Chester, at home and on the courts. He witnessed the hard work and determination of his mother, the sacrifices she made. The willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed may not have been everywhere in his environment but there was enough at home and on that piece of asphalt.
He's talented, athletic, but also very raw. While his defensive game should quickly translate to the NBA, his (supposed) limited offensive game needs a lot of work. He's said that. He can get to the basket thanks to his long and athletic frame, but his outside shot is pretty non-existent.
With that being said, as is always the case with RHJ, he certainly does not lack the confidence.
"Look out Brooklyn, here I come," he said, dropping a couple of bars for the reporters after being traded to the Nets. "You can't hide, you can't run, I'm coming, baby!"
It's shown in the two summer leagues. Tuesday against the Charlotte Hornets in Orlando, Hollis-Jefferson was tasked with defending Frank Kaminsky, the college player of the year, who had gone up against at Arizona. Hollis-Jefferson held the Wisconsin standout to zero points in the fourth quarter. On Friday, the last one in Orlando, he stuffed the stat sheet with 22 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists and four steals. Then, 30 hours later in Las Vegas, he put up 15, 9, 4 and 5.
He's got through the urban gauntlet to make it to the NBA and along the way, became a bit of a Renaissance Man. He sings, plays piano, is planning a mixtape with fellow rookie Chris McCollough and other than basketball, he is a fan of golf. He's poised, loves the camera ... and the attraction is mutual. As for his red plaid D(raft)-Day outfit, the rookie was simply being himself.
"Growing up, I was never afraid to be different," he told NBA.com. "Red is my favorite color, but I knew would wear red, so I wanted to step outside the box."
- In Chester, basketball court is king; Rondae rules - Caitlin McCabe - Philadelphia Inquirer
- Arizona's Hollis-Jefferson knows all about sacrifice - Paola Boivin - Azcentral Sports
- 10 things to know about Rondae Hollis-Jefferson - Brooklyn Nets