By Joe Santoliquito
Philadelphia (CBS) — Within a few days after Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski lost one of those forgettable dagger-to-the-soul games to Lehigh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the coaching legend was on a plane to the Philadelphia area to see Amile Jefferson.
Apparently, the trip meant a lot to the 6-foot-8, McDonald’s All-American, who made an oral commitment to Duke Tuesday afternoon to a basketball scholarship to the Blue Devils.
The small Friends Central gym began filling about 45 minutes before Jefferson even stepped toward to the table already positioned to face the stands. The 6-foot-8 Jefferson was the last of 2012’s major recruits to commit.
It was a long, back-and-forth process, before Jefferson took the podium and make his choice official—that it would be Duke, which Jefferson choose over North Carolina State, Kentucky and Villanova, about five miles up the street from where Friends Central is located.
“This was a really tough decision for me, and at the end of the day, I made my decision based on and off the court. I think Friends Central has prepared me greatly for the next step of my life, and without adeu, I’m proud to say I’ll be attending Duke University in the fall,” Jefferson said. “I think it was the great combination of academics and athletics that led me to Duke. Going to a school like Friends Central, it emulates everything Duke has to offer, In the end, Duke was the best choice for me.”
Jefferson finished a distinguished career at Friends Cantral, where he averaged just under 20 points and 8 rebounds a game this past season. He led the Phoenix, who are not PIAA affiliated (Pennsylvania’s high school governing body), to two Friends Schools League championships, was selected as a three-time all-state player, and a two-time Pennsylvania Player of the Year. He finished his career scoring over 1,500 points and blocking 800 shots.
“I made the decision two days ago, when I said to myself, ‘This is where I want to be, and this is the school that I wanted to go to,'” Jefferson said. “It was the right decision at the end. It’s the right school for me. I considered North Carolina State, and it’s a great school and a program on the rise, and it was definitely between Duke and NC State. But at the end of the day, Duke seemed to be the best fit for me. It’s going to be a challenge, academically and athletically, but I think Friends Central prepared me for this. It took this long because I wanted to make sure I made the right choice.”
Having Jefferson be the first player Krzyzewski visited in person scored serious points with Jefferson and his family.
“That meant a lot, and Coach K’s reaction after the Lehigh loss was pure class, and to come and visit Amile, and say how much they wanted him, and how much Amile going there meant to Duke was very, very important,” Friends Central coach Jason Polykoff said. “To immediately come and talk to Amile right after that loss, that really meant a lot to Amile.
“That to Amile showed how much Duke and Coach K wanted him. It boiled down to Duke and NC State, and he was having a tough time between the two. He made the decision a few days ago, but he wanted to make sure and be as diligent as he has been throughout the process. I’ll tell you for a fact, Amile will graduate with a degree from Duke. That was an important part of the process.”
Jefferson, who admitted was extremely nervous before going public with his choice, was finally able to to relax. He beamed a wide, big smile and shook hands with the many, many well-wishers who made sure they were there to witness his long-awaited announcement.
“I’m happy it’s over and happy with my choice,” Jefferson said. “I’m happy with my decision and this next phase I’m about to begin. I know I made the right choice. Anything Coach K will need me to do, I’ll do. I know I have to get stronger, work on my jump shot a little more, and I like the way Coach K coaches. It’s a great fit.”