Former Arizona Wildcats standout Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has emerged as the breakout player at the FIBA World Cup, where on Wednesday he scored 20 points for Jordan in a losing effort against the United States.
Hollis-Jefferson shot 6 of 14 from the field along with seven rebounds, three assists and three steals despite twisting his ankle in the second quarter of an eventual 110-62 defeat to the Americans.
Through three games, Hollis-Jefferson is second in the World Cup in scoring with 27.7 points per game. The only player above him is a guy named Luka Doncic of Slovenia.
Hollis-Jefferson had a tournament-high 39 points in Jordan’s 95-87 loss to New Zealand on Monday. His shot making has drawn comparisons to the late Kobe Bryant, who like Hollis-Jefferson grew up in Philadelphia. Hollis-Jefferson notably is wearing Bryant’s former number, 24.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson today:— NBACentral (@TheDunkCentral) August 28, 2023
“God was with me and Kobe was with me, for sure.”
After the loss to the U.S., Hollis-Jefferson remarked on his basketball journey from former first round pick to out of the NBA and competing in Turkey and Puerto Rico.
“I would say once I was out the league, I had to reevaluate myself,” he told reporters. “I came out of high school, I was top 25. I was in the green room for the lottery. I feel like I was on a pedestal. I felt like I could do anything I wanted.
“Not being in the NBA, not having a roster spot kind of woke me up to humble myself. And I doubted myself. I thought I wasn’t good enough. I thought I wasn’t capable as a basketball player anymore.”
Hollis-Jefferson credited his first born son for keeping his hope alive.
“I went through a lot of ups and downs but he kept my head up, kept me focused, along with a group of other people,” he said.
"Once I was out the league, I had to reevaluate myself… I was in the Green Room. I feel like I was on a pedestal… Not being in the NBA, not having a roster spot woke me up to humble myself."— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) August 30, 2023
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on his journey
Hollis-Jefferson said his career took a step forward in Puerto Rico by playing for a coach that let him play his style of basketball.
“When you let a player who is really talented be comfortable, he’ll be able to do a lot of things with that basketball,” Hollis-Jefferson said.
While Jordan is 0-3 in the tournament, Hollis-Jefferson’s time on the world stage isn’t finished yet. The team will play in the classification round with its next game Thursday against Egypt at 5:30 a.m. MST.
How other former Wildcats are faring at FIBA
Two former Arizona players are still competing for a chance to win the FIBA World Cup, while U.S. coach Steve Kerr would like to bring a gold medal back to America.
Dusan Ristic is a forward for Serbia, which went 3-0 in group play. Ristic is averaging 7.3 points and 4.7 rebounds.
Serbia begins the second round by facing Italy Friday at 1 a.m. Arizona assistant Riccardo Fois is an assistant coach for the Italian team.
Josh Green represents Australia, which went 2-1 in group play. Green is averaging 9 points and 2.3 rebounds.
Australia takes on Slovenia Friday at 5:10 a.m.
Finland, led by Lauri Markkanen, went 0-3 in group play. Markkanen is averaging 19.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists. Finland faces Cape Verde in the classification round Thursday at 12:30 a.m.