"They said I was loafing . . . Some days I don't feel like I'm part of the team. All I do is pass and play defense. I don't get any of the benefits."
GW's Curtis Jeffries, on being chewed out by his coach 15 days ago
"We've come a long way. I've accepted my role. I'm just glad to play now and be starting. Everything's fine with me." --Jeffries, yesterday
When a basketball team like George Washington has scorers like Brian Magid, Mike Zagardo and Tom Glenn, the last thing a point guard should do is try to score.The next to the last thing he should do is sulk because he doesn't get his shots.
The Colonials had been leaderlesss. Their guard play was the joke of the Eastern Eight and the season was slipping away. So, on the eve of the first Villanova game, Coach Bob Tallent huddled his players after practice and criticized Curtis Jeffries, harshly.
After the coach finished, Zagardo and Magid talked to the 5-foot-11 junior and told him that what Tallent wanted him to do was necessary, if not a way of getting gobs of publicity. The peer pressure worked.
GW lost the next night to Villanova, but Jeffries played hard and well. And the Colonials (13-5) have not lost since, taking a five-game winning streak into tonight's important conference game against Villanova (15-5) at Smith Center. The winner of the 8 o'clock game almost certainly will gain a homecourt advantage in the first round of the league tournament.
Jeffries played point guard on a Ballard High team in Louisville with Jeff Lamp, Lee Raker and Jerry Eaves -- scorers all, so his position at GW was nothing new.
A smile appears on Jeffries' face when he recalls the chewing out.
"It didn't really bother me. It just woke me up really," Jeffries said. "I wanted to get my fair shot that everybody else was getting (to score), because I know I can play. I don't even get the chance to show what I can do out there. I have to run the offense. To run the offense, you have to give the ball up to start the play.
"The other guard is the recipient and gets the shots. If I do get the the ball, I've got to get it to Zig. Somebody's got to pass it to him. When we're running, that's when I get mine. I get them off the steals (he has almost three times in high school, so I'm used to it."
So why the problem adjusting to it now?
"Because I wanted to score," Jeffries replied. "I'm tired of being in that same role. In high school, I didn't like it, either and that coach knew it, too. But he told me he'd get me a scholarship if I did what he told me to do. So I did it."
That coach, Richard Schmidt also thought Jeffries was an inconsistent player.
"It's not really going up and down, but it's the degree of challenge," Jeffries said. "Somebody presents a challenge -- not a team but a player -- like George Mason did. It was a game I wasn't going to get into. I wanted to play a little and I wanted to take myself out and let Randy (Davis, a freshman) play and get some experience.
"But their guards kept talking to me, saying I can't play. Every guard that came off the bench came up talking to me, trying to harass me and make me mad. Don't tell me I can't play. I'll take you every time. You provoke me, you make me upset. Then I want to play."
Jeffries' statistics that night: 20 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, five steals.
Such are the tangibles that appear in box scores. He leads the team in assists and steals and his 10.7 scoring average complements Magid, the bomber; Zagardo, the inside player, and Glenn, a jump-shooter and offensive rebounder.
But what Tallent criticized Jeffries for was the belief that Jeffries was not playing to his capabilities.
"He's always been a team player -- that's not it," Tallent said. "It's just a question of how much -- is he going to be 100 percent tonight? Or 90? Or 85? Curtis at 100 percent is tough. Curtis at 90 percent is mediocre, like most people."
Effort is important on a team that lacks speed and ranks last in the league in rebounding. Jeffries, Glenn and Oscar Wilmington -- the freshman small forward -- are the outstanding athletes; Magid and Zagardo are hard workers by necessity.
For this team to excel, everyone has to play intensely.
"We can play much better than we're playing now," said Jeffries. "It's all on me. I set the tempo. If I play hard defensively, they know I'll get the steal and that they're not playing defense for no reason at all. Something's going to come out of it -- Curtis is going to get a steal and help someone.
"When I'm ready, everybody's ready, and we roll."
The team is now playing to each other's strengths. Wilmington's passing takes some of that pressure off Jeffries; Magid's improved ball-handling helps relieve the pressure on Jeffries against the press; Zagardo's inside presence leaves Magid open to bomb away. Only Glenn, who carried the Colonials earlier, is not playing well now.
"We're together," said Glenn. "That's the essence of this team. When we get on the floor, things get clicking for us."
And Jeffries, a communications major with a minor in criminal justice, wants the world to know he is not mad at it, as his face would suggest.
"Am I a moody person? Not until I come into this gym," he says. "Outside, I have a good time. People misunderstand me. They think I'm mad all the time. They can't understand this is the way my face looks. I'm not mean. I'm not upset. I'm always happy. People tend to shy away from me; they're scared. I love people. . .
"I don't mind my (basketball) role. I just want to shoot the ball, too."
In other games tonight, Georgetown travels to East Orange, N. J., for an 8 p.m. Big East game against Seton Hall; Virginia hosts Duke in a 9 p.m. Atlantic Coast Conference game (WDCA-TV, Channel 20), and Maryland-Eastern Shore visits the University of the District of Columbia in an 8 p.m. game at McKinley Tech.