Radford, Virginia, is home to the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, described as “America’s Favorite Road,” miles and miles of breathtaking vistas and ethereal sunsets looming over historic old buildings and picturesque farms.
It is a strange mountainside community with 17,000 people north surrounded by the city’s namesake university.
There, 4,000 fans pack up the Deadmon Center to watch Josiah Jeffers and the Highlanders hold serve on the hardwood.
“Everyone knows everybody here,” Jeffers says. “It’s one of those kinds of places, like home.”
Jeffers has a whole new appreciation for picturesque simplicity after his stint at the college basketball transfer gate this time last year.
“When I look back,” Jeffers says. “It’s hard to believe where I came from and the path I took.”
The transfer portal, with over 1,400 players and counting on the rise, has become one of the most polarizing topics in off-season college esports, as the Power 5 maze moves in as top mid-level stars rise, often with their zero fortunes tackling .
Most hear about top-notch transfers, but not every player is finally living their old high school dreams of top coaches outselling them and negotiating massive NIL deals.
While 63% of the more than 1,300 players in last year’s gate have attended new NCAA schools, 31% of them have not yet landed at another NCAA school to this day.
Then there is 7%. “Jeffers” Gate, who undergo surgery and are forced to return to their home school.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Jeffers says. “The gate can be a scary place for a lot of people.”
This time last year, Jeffers had just met at the end of the year with then coach Mike Jones to sum up his junior season. Jeffers had what proved to be a common start to the COVID-19 season, missing the first six weeks after contracting the virus, then stopping back-to-back contact tracing.
Multiple starts and stops meant random lineups and sparse playing time, culminating in an average of four points per game on 35% of the field and 18% of the three-point streak for the 15-12 Highlanders.
This led to a real conversation about Jones’ perspective on Jeffers’ prospects for the following season.
“He said I won’t be playing much next season,” Jeffers says. “He told me I might need to look around for other options, maybe even a D-II. I knew I had to move on, but then he called me the next day and said he made a mistake and wanted me back. I didn’t feel comfortable going back after the first conversation , so I decided to move. Five of my colleagues left after that.”
Go to follow
Jeffers opposed his father’s advice, Tim Jeffers, to stick to it.
Tim takes pride in his “old school mentality” to fight through adversity at any cost and offered his direct brand of truth serum when they discussed Josiah’s options moving forward.
“I reminded him of his numbers and percentages and that he was between 6’1″ and 6’2″, Tim says realistically. You’re not 6’7″. At that height, if your numbers aren’t that high, what are we really going to do here?”
However, Jeffers, armed with his “bet on yourself” mantra, plunged first into the gate, taking a quick bite from West Virginia, D-II School four hours away.
Excited by the prospects of a new start, Jeffers paid a visit and got a chance to play pick-up with the team.
“She really dominated the game, and it was really easy,” Jeffers says. “I don’t mean to be cocky; I consolidated more to the point that I have to play at the DI level, so I decided to come back and wait for more performances.”
A week passed. no thing.
Then another. No bites.
After another two weeks of deafening cricket sounds, Jeffers was in contact with West Carolina assistant head coach Jason G.
Jeffers had approached Gee, a former assistant at Longwood, during the high school recruitment process. He persuaded Jeffers to commit to the Lancer team before a change in coaching forced Jeffers to relinquish the commitment.
“I had to put on my work hat because I love him; I told him about a guard who isn’t overly electric in what’s considered a low-key Division I, numbers just don’t speak for itself. They are talking about a scholarship, but it may not be a first division. The market value wasn’t very high and that’s the part that a lot of guys miss.”
The “Tim-like” chat with J sparked a realization in Jeffers that became so real that it frightened him.
“I was just thinking, ‘Shall I not go back to college at all?'” Jeffers says. “
The fact that he might miss his last year of college caused a frantic brainstorming session that covered everything from sitting down and applying for a two-year exemption to moving on.
Elon showed a strong interest in the eleventh hour, but knowing that his credits wouldn’t transfer at a speed weakened any hope.
“I would have literally lost a year,” Jeffers says. “It would have taken me two years to graduate instead of a year. I couldn’t do it. It became clear that I had to go back to Radford.”
The problem was that Jones had left to take the job at UNC Greensboro and that Radford had brought in Florida Hotshot’s assistant Darris Nichols to lead the program.
Jeffers’ main plan to return to his glory days at the Deadmon Center was that as he searched for greener pastures, Nichols would fill out his list.
“I knew he had all the scholarship students, so I had to swallow my pride and ask to be in full swing,” Jeffers says. “It seemed like this would take a lot, but I was so worried I wouldn’t have anywhere to go, and I didn’t care what it looked like.”
Nichols didn’t know what to think when Yaren Marino, the basketball operations manager, told him Jeffers wanted to sit down.
“I didn’t know him,” Nichols says. “Everyone praised him, but when he told me he wanted to walk on his own two feet, I didn’t believe him. I had to call his parents, and when I realized he was serious I was about everything.”
Infidelity is understandable. After all, as an out-of-state student, Jeffers, who is originally from North Carolina, was looking at a hefty $23,624 price tag for this year.
Jeffers’ mother, Detra Cox, was quick to point out that his decision had to come up with something he hadn’t experienced since college: a job.
“Reality hit fast,” Jeffers says. “I had never had to do anything like this before as a scholarship player. Now, I was completely on the other side of it. It was just a challenge I had to accept. It did nothing for me; I actually searched Google jobs myself at area and I ended up getting a work study at the library. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
He was right.
As a walker, Jeffers wasn’t receiving preferential treatment he didn’t know he was used to. His job wasn’t interested in him having coaching, so Jeffers had to juggle things and balance on a daily basis.
“There were a few times I had to leave early to get to work,” Nichols says. “I was very impressed with the way he handled things, and we made a training plan ahead of time where he could tweak it and work on it. It wasn’t easy for him, though.”
The hardest part?
Seeing the players in the bonus talk with excitement when their monthly paychecks hit their accounts, and for once, the inability to relate.
“Whew! This is the right place,” says Jeffers. “I just kept reminding myself that I was putting myself in this situation, and it was up to me to deal with it. I had to really focus on that, and I noticed that mindset helped me in every area of my life.”
Especially hard wood.
Jeffers more than doubled his offensive production, averaging 10 points while adding 3.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game while earning a reputation as one of the best defenders in the Big South. By mid-season, Nichols was clear about Jeffers’ value and awarded him a full scholarship when the player left after the first semester.
“He’s a guy who grew up a lot based on what he’s been through,” Nichols says. “I simply told him: I won it.”
These three words emphasized Jeffers in a way he had never experienced before. The back story tends to be different when you’re the star.
Jeffers was determined to accommodate what he called his “season of growth” and not allow his re-establishment to turn his newfound mindset into a fleeting emotion.
“The first thing I did was keep my job,” Jeffers says. “This is a reminder of how hard it is to keep going. I love it now.”
Often at outdoor games in large arenas, Jeffers would walk on the ground before shooting, staring around and talking to himself over and over.
man! I’m not supposed to be here, He was whispering while shaking his head at the same time.
When his colleagues looked puzzled and asked what he meant, Jeffers would simply smile and say, “You have no idea.”
“At the end of the day, everyone is running their own race,” says Jeffers, who will fit in with the Highlanders next season with additional COVID-19. “That was brutal, but this was mine. In the gate, everyone thinks they’re going to improve their situation, but this is business. You have to bet on yourself, but you have to be realistic. I love who I am now mentally and I know I’ve grown a lot, but I know it’s I could have listened more too.Sometimes you don’t have to follow through if you’re listening to the right people.
“It worked for me, but I know my coach could easily have said no to me while I was walking. I am very lucky and I am getting closer to basketball and life in general more intentionally now. That is the biggest win.”
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