Othyus Jeffers couldn’t have asked for a much better start to the offseason, when the Wizards picked up his $1.06 million qualifying offer in late June to make him a restricted free agent whenever the next collective bargaining agreement was ratified. The significance of having an NBA team declare first right of refusal wasn’t lost on Jeffers, who had to scrap and claw his way up from the NBA Development League.
“My time finally came. That’s how I felt,” Jeffers, 26, said. “My mind-set wasn’t, ‘Whew, I finally made it, and just sit back and feel good.’ Nah. I wanted more. I wanted to be there as the season started as a Wizard and finish the season as an NBA player. I was pretty much tired and fed up with hearing, ‘Well, you belong there, but you have to wait your turn.’ I felt that solidified me as a player and I was ready to go to work to make sure I wouldn’t be up and down again.”
But only a few weeks later, Jeffers was back in a precarious position. First, NBA owners decided to lock out players, placing free agency on hold. Then, while working out in Chicago last July, Jeffers was maneuvering through cones and making cuts to the rim when he landed awkwardly and collapsed. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee – an injury that usually requires a six-to-eight month rehabilitation.
“It was just a freak accident,” said Jeffers, who is now unsure about what the Wizards plan to do with him when the lockout ends. “Am I worried? Yes, I am worried. But at the same time, I believe in God and I think everything will work out.”
The 6-foot-3 Jeffers had an arduous journey to the NBA. He had to first survive a rough neighborhood in Chicago’s West Side, where two of his older brothers were murdered and Jeffers was shot while coming to the defense of his sister in a dispute with her boyfriend. He went undrafted in 2008, played a year in Italy and then twice became an all-star in the D-League, getting shots with the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs.
He brought hustle to the Wizards, taking on some tough defensive assignments, fighting for rebounds, and scoring when the opportunity presented itself.
“I tried to bring something to the table that I felt the team needed, like energy and defense. By the end of the year, my number was called and I was able to let it be known that I was able to play,” Jeffers said. “I wasn’t just playing for me. I was playing for my family, my friends, for my city, for everyone I knew. Everyone always talks about the NBA, but most of them didn’t put in the work to actually pull it off. I’m not the best person to come out of Chicago, but I’m one of the hardest workers and my hard work paid off.”
Jeffers is on a different grind with his knee injury. He said his knee didn’t swell until he went under the knife. “I have a weird body,” Jeffers said with a laugh, adding that he even played a little basketball without a working ACL before having the surgery.
He was unable to work with members of the Wizards’ medical and training staff, but Jeffers credits his agent, Mark Bartelstein, for getting him connected with Brian Cole, an orthopedist and team physician for the Chicago Bulls, and finding a trainer to help him get back on the court.
Jeffers has been following through with his regimen, with hopes of coming back as soon as possible. The lockout has already wiped out the first month of the regular season, giving Jeffers an opportunity to heal.
“It’s kind of weird,” he said. “It’s tough not knowing what would actually happen. The best thing I could do was stay prayerful and let [the Wizards] know that when the time did come to lift it [the lockout], I was already working to get back to the to the top.
“I have a very good agent and I’m confident with the things they can pull off and what will happen,” Jeffers said. “I have to work. I can’t rest. I have to get to the point where I can be effective for an NBA game. Either or, I have to be ready.”