Indiana's homegrown star blooms Sophomore Jared Jeffries stayed in his hometown to play for the Hoosiers. He may leave for the NBA.

Posted: March 23, 2002

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The superlative adjectives keep raining down on Indiana's Jared Jeffries, the Big Ten player of the year who will lead the Hoosiers (23-11) into the NCAA South Regional final tonight against Kent State (30-5) at Rupp Arena.

The winner will earn a berth in the Final Four next weekend in Atlanta.

"I thought he was incredibly unique," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Jeffries collected 24 points and 15 rebounds in Indiana's 74-73 victory over the Blue Devils on Thursday. "I like Jared because of his versatility. He is a basketball player who happens to be 6-10 or 6-11."

"He is a force inside with his scoring and passing, and he is also a force with his rebounding," Kent State coach Stan Heath said. "We're not going to be able to stop him. We are going to have to make him take tough shots. He is one of the best players in college basketball."

Jeffries, a sophomore who this season is averaging 15.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, may not be a college basketball player much longer.

He said yesterday that he would call a news conference two weeks after the Hoosiers' last game to announce whether he's going to make himself available for the NBA draft in June.

With the size and all-around skills that were described so accurately by Krzyzewski and Heath, the 21-year-old Jeffries brings to mind perennial NBA all-star Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs.

"I really just try to be fundamental, and I think Tim Duncan has some of the best footwork and fundamental moves in all of basketball," Jeffries said. "That's how he's so effective. He takes advantage of what the other team gives him, and that's what I want to try to do."

Jeffries, a native of Bloomington, Ind., wound up at his hometown university after almost signing with Duke.

"I had to drive by [Indiana's] Assembly Hall to get to his house," Krzyzewski said. "I knew it was a stretch trying to recruit him, but I thought it was worth the try."

"When Duke recruited me, they did a wonderful job," Jeffries said. "That was one of the best recruiting schools that I was handled by. They really did a good job of talking to me, as far as what they could do for me. They compared me to Grant Hill if I came to their program. But I grew up in Bloomington, and lived there my whole life. My parents and grandmother were there, and my little brother was growing up there. I didn't want to leave them yet."

In his first season at Indiana, Jeffries was named Big Ten freshman of the year after averaging 13.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. He joined a team that was built around forward Kirk Haston, who led the Hoosiers in scoring at 19.2 points per game last season before opting to forgo his senior year to enter the NBA draft.

This year, Indiana became Jeffries' team.

"Last year, we had Haston to score, and Jared kind of took a backseat to him," said Hoosiers coach Mike Davis, who in his first full season has guided Indiana to its first Sweet 16 berth since 1994. "His improvement from last year to this year has been tremendous. Right now, I think he's the best player in the country. He's our security blanket, and our inside-outside guy. When he's going well, our guys feel good about playing."

Jeffries, a quiet but playful sort, doesn't see himself as a traditional leader.

"I'm not necessarily a leader as far as getting in guys' faces and yelling at them," Jeffries said. "I'm more a leader by example. I think a lot of times, if you can be the most talented player on the team, they look to you because of your talent. So I have to step up and take that kind of leadership role."

Contact Kevin Tatum at 215-854-2583 or ktatum@phillynews.com.

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