DJ Jeffries appreciates Kentucky, "difficult" basketball journey

DJ Jeffries appreciates Kentucky, “difficult” basketball journey

It’s been a wild ride for Mississippi State forward DJ Jeffries. Entering his senior season of college basketball, the former five-star recruit was John Calipari’s first commitment in the class of 2019, choosing the Wildcats back in March of 2018. He then became Calipari’s first decommitment, backing away from his pledge four months later in July.

Jeffries then committed to Memphis in October, joining Penny Hardaway and James Wiseman for his freshman year. He would stick around Bluff City for another year before entering the transfer portal and taking his talents to Starkville — an original finalist in his high school recruitment.

Jeffries played for coach Ben Howland his first year at MSU, starting in 31 games for the Bulldogs. Howland was then fired at the conclusion of the season, an 18-16 finish for the team, leading to the Olive Branch, MS native deciding to re-enter the portal in April. He then withdrew from the portal and returned to Mississippi State to play for new head coach Chris Jans.

Three different commitments to four different coaches (including Calipari) dating back to 2018, four years of ups and downs.

“When I start something, I’m going to always finish it,” Jeffries said of his decision to return to MSU at SEC Media Day on Wednesday. “I’m here to finish it with these guys. Hopefully everything goes right with us this year. We’re going to go out there and give it our all, give something Mississippi State fans something to cheer for and be proud of.”

It all started with Kentucky, a controversial four months as an unofficial Wildcat. He started as a top-30 prospect in the class 2019 and a teammate of Wiseman, UK’s top recruiting target at the time. Hardaway was hired at Memphis shortly after, leading to immediate speculation that Jeffries and Wiseman could both follow their former grassroots coach.

Jeffries initially denied interest in the Tigers, but speculation of a potential partnership in Memphis continued throughout the summer. During this time, the versatile forward’s stock dropped, falling from No. 26 overall to No. 52 in the final rankings. By the end of the summer, it appeared Kentucky’s interest had fallen off a bit, as well, with the coaching staff missing Jeffries’ final grassroots game of the summer. Instead, UK was out recruiting elsewhere.

“It was the last game of his summer career, so he was expecting somebody to be there,” Jeffries’ dad, Corey, said at the time. “I think it kind of bothered him. That kind of shook him up a little bit.”

From there, Jeffries decommitted from the program, and it wasn’t a pretty break-up. Corey Jeffries told a Memphis radio station that Kentucky was “unprofessional” in its reaction to his son’s decommitment.

“It kinda shocked me,” Jeffries said. “They were kinda unprofessional,” They didn’t handle the news the way I expected them to handle it, being professionals.”

Jeffries wound up at Memphis with Hardaway and Wiseman, while Kentucky signed Kahlil Whitney in his place, joining Tyrese Maxey, Keion Brooks Jr., Johnny Juzang and Dontaie Allen in the class. The two parties went their separate ways, each having their own fair share of ups and downs since.

Now entering his fourth season of college basketball and second in the SEC, Jeffries is proud of his journey and the growth he’s managed along the way.

“It’s been a stressful, long, long journey, man,” Jeffries told KSR. “I’m just thankful to be here. At least I’m still out here playing basketball. Everybody goes through ups and downs in life, and I’ve been through a lot of downs. But I’d say I’m in good spirits.

“My grandmother and my family do a good job keeping me composed, keeping me uplifted. Now, I just feel grateful to be playing basketball, here with these guys, playing in the SEC. I can be me again, have fun.”

Jeffries averaged 10.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 27.1 minutes per game as a freshman at Memphis, playing in 19 total games and starting 13. He followed it up by averaging 9.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 25.6 minutes per game with 28 games played and 11 starts.

Looking for a fresh start in Starkville, he then averaged 8.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 28.1 minutes per game. 34 games played, 31 starts. He briefly explored his other options in the portal this offseason, but ultimately decided Mississippi State was the best place for him to close out his career.

Does he have any regrets with any of his past decisions — Kentucky, Memphis or Mississippi State? Things haven’t necessarily gone as planned, but that doesn’t mean he’s living with regret. His twist-and-turn-filled journey helped him become the player and man he is today.

For that, he’s grateful. Now, he’s just excited to see where life takes him and the chapters that remain in his story.

“There’s definitely — everybody has their regrets,” Jeffries told KSR. “At the end of the day, I’m not going to regret anything because everything happens for a reason. It’s probably just another piece of my story. You never know what your story is. Hopefully mine is a good one.”

Any hard feelings with Kentucky about how things unfolded four long years ago? Just the opposite, actually. He still has love and a deep appreciation for UK, the first program he ever fell in love with.

“There’s always love with Kentucky, man,” Jeffries told KSR. “I just like messing with the fans sometimes. I’m going to always love Kentucky. When I committed there, they showed me so much love.

“There’s no hate there, I really love them. I will always appreciate Kentucky.”

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