The Emerald Will Shine Soon Enough.

By Stephen Alford
Updated: December 2, 2004

Al Jefferson

BOSTON — Shortly after he was chosen as the 15th pick in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, Al Jefferson immediately became a favorite amongst Celtic Nation when he had brilliant showings in the NBA’s summer leagues.

Having had 14 players chosen ahead of him, your writer has dubbed Al Jefferson “The Emerald of the Rough”, the Rough being the 2004 NBA Draft since it was full of raw college underclassmen, high schoolers, and foreign players.

The Emerald is a 6’10”, 265-lbs. power forward from the state of Mississippi, who will show the League how bright he can shine as soon Coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers has the confidence in Jefferson to give him significant minutes. It shouldn’t be too long though readers. The Emerald has already shown flashes of brilliance at basketball’s highest level.

Witness Boston’s 90-88 win on November 10th over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Arguably, Portland boasts one of the best frontcourt in the NBA with Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Zach Randolph, and Theo Ratliff. When The Emerald checked into the game with 2:10 to play in the first quarter, he immediately hit a 20-foot jumper.

He then opened the second quarter by following up a Tony Allen miss with a slam, and scored another two points a little more than two minutes later after cleaning the offensive glass. He ended the quarter tallying five rebounds, two from the offensive end, and also blocked an Abdur-Rahim shot.

Emerald Al finished the first half of the Portland game with six points and connected on all three of his field goal attempts. In addition, in the 11 first-half minutes that he logged, Al only had one turnover, which is something to write about considering he is only a year removed from the varsity squad at Prentiss High School.

After the game, Celtics Coach Doc Rivers had this to say of the young Jefferson: “Al Jefferson, I tell ya, he’s going to be a heck of a player. I think he’s getting better defensively. For now, he’s so good offensively, he’s just going to find the bucket. We don’t worry about that. So that’s what I see with Al. And he’s a phenomenal rebounder. There was a point at the end of the game, I honestly thought about putting him in there – just to see if we could get a board.” The Celtics were outrebounded 24-13 in the second half of that game against Portland. Jefferson only logged three minutes in that second half. And he grabbed one rebound.

November 19th vs The Spurs

In addition to Tim Duncan, the Spurs have a front line that consists of Rasho Nesterovic, Malik Rose, Tony Massenburg (your writer knew Tony Mass when we both attended the University of Maryland during the mid/late 80s), and Robert Horry.

Initially, San Antonio Coach Greg Popovich had Robert Horry stick Jefferson when the rookie checked in the game. The young Jefferson flipped it on Horry, and made one of the League’s most celebrated clutch shooters look like the kid who was fresh out of prep school by hitting Horry with some veteran-like low post moves.

Eventually, Coach Popovich had to substitute Malik Rose into the game, and assigned the more physical Rose to defend Jefferson. Rose quickly introduced himself to Jefferson by knocking the rook on his hind parts.

“I was just trying to push him out a little further,” explained Rose after the game. “When he (Jefferson) scored he was close to the basket and he got decent position, which is kind of hard to do against us. But he used his body well. He showed that he has good post presence.”

“He knew what to do when he got it down there. I was impressed with him. He didn’t cry at all to the ref or anything. He just kept banging back. He kept pushing. I hadn’t really seen him play but for a high school kid he got good presence down there. Great touch on his hook.” He showed that hook more than a few times on Horry. The Emerald finished the game against the Spurs with 13 points, having shot 6-for-12 from the field and grabbed six caroms, four of those being from the offensive end.

Even the Big Fundamental was impressed with The Emerald’s game. “Al was really good,” complimented Duncan. “He played very well tonight. He really did. He shot the ball just about every time he touched it but…(laughs)… he was getting good position. He has a very good touch. He played hard at both ends. I thought he did an excellent job tonight.” Coach Doc Rivers had more praise for Jefferson after the San Antonio loss by saying, “Al Jefferson was just fantastic.” But he also made it clear that The Emerald is still rough and green (excuse the big pun).

“You expect Al to do things that honestly he just can’t do,” Rivers continued. “There were three or four times tonight where he should have made a hard foul. But he didn’t do it. But you’re asking a 19-year-old (pause) you know in high school, they’ll put you in jail for a hard foul (smiles).”

“So, I’m asking a 19-year-old not to hurt him but to be aggressive. He’s probably been told, ‘Be careful. Be gentle with the little kids.’ And now to tell him to be physical, that’s asking a lot out of him. I do understand.” Jefferson understands as well. And, compared to his high school days, the young rookie has seen improvement in his own game already. “I feel like I’m in better shape,” Jefferson self-assessed. “I work the floor a lot better. I’ll extend the game. I rebound better. I take my shots. I don’t force nothing. If the shots there I take it and if not pass it off.”

Once Doc has confidence in Al Jefferson’s defense, more than several NBA owners are going to be wondering how their organization overlooked The Emerald from Prentiss, Mississippi in the rough of the 2004 NBA Draft.