By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s had a superb summer that convinced college basketball recruiting analysts he could be a big contributor at Kentucky. However, ESPN five-star forward D.J. Jeffries shocked many Monday when he de-committed from the Wildcats despite saying numerous times in recent months that he was firmly committed to UK.
Jeffries played on an AAU team coached by Penny Hardaway, who was named head coach at Memphis about one week after Jeffries announced he was going to UK. One of Jeffries’ AAU teammates has been James Wiseman, perhaps the No. 1 player in the 2019 recruiting class who is basically deciding between Memphis and Kentucky.
“After careful consideration prayer and countless hours of consulting with my family I decided to reopen recruitment it was a hard decision but I am confident that taking my time to choose the right school for me to better myself educationally and athletically is the right choice,” Jeffries posted on Twitter.
Jeffries plays for Olive Branch, Miss. He played in the Marshall County Hoopfest last year — as did Wiseman. Both are also scheduled to be back with their teams this year and Jeffries had figured to be a major draw since he would be going to UK.
Sporting News college basketball columnist Mike DeCourcy watched Jeffries play in the recent Peach Jam against the nation’s best players and came away impressed with the 6-7, four-star player.
“I really like him a lot. He’s a very dynamic and versatile forward,” DeCourcy said said. “One thing I really love is his ability to finish below the rim. He can play above the rim but he does not need to.
“He is crafty about his finishes at the basket. If he is in traffic, he will read your move and bank it off the board before you can do anything about it. That’s not something a lot of people understand. Reading the defense around the rim is important. Why go up strong and maybe eat the ball at the basket. He reads the defender and can go another way or just release the ball quickly. He’s really good at that.
“I think his ability to do that is a rare gift and will serve him well in college and in the NBA beyond that.”
The 6-8 Jeffries averaged 15.3 points per game in Nike EYBL play for the Bluff City Legends — a team that included UK’s top 2019 target, James Wiseman — and shot 48.8 percent from the field, 32.4 percent from 3-point range and 76 percent at the foul line. He also averaged 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game. For comparison, Wiseman averaged 15.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
ESPN recruiting director Paul Biancardi also got to see Jeffries play and “loves” his versatility much like DeCourcy does.
“That versatility is what Cal and his staff love,” Biancardi said when he still thought Jeffries was UK-bound. “Length, wingspan, athleticism. He has all that. He’s so fluid and smooth and can be a combination guy. He can be a small ball 4 (power forward) or you can go bigger with him at the 3 (small forward).
“I just like a lot about his game. There’s nothing definite that just jumps out at you other than the versatility, and that really jumps out. He still has a long way to go in terms of development but he has plenty of time to do it. He also has some defensive versatility that I really like.”
That versatility is what makes losing him a blow to Kentucky because from what I’ve been told, this de-commitment was not one UK knew was coming and certainly has to make one believe that UK’s chances of landing Wiseman took a hit when his friend and AAU teammate bailed on the Cats.