Arizona coach Sean Miller on the legacy of now-retired Richard Jefferson
Former Arizona Wildcats forward Richard Jefferson announced his retirement from basketball on Saturday after 17 NBA seasons, 1,181 regular-season games, more than 1,000 3-pointers, a career scoring average of 12.6 points ... and one big, fat championship ring as part of the 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers.
That's quite a legacy.
As is his name on the Arizona's practice facility, thanks to a $3.5 million donation toward construction in August 2007.
I asked Arizona coach Sean Miller on Sunday after the Red-Blue Game about his interactions with Jefferson.
"I'll say this about all of our former players. From the second I walked into McKale Center nine-and-a-half years ago, there hasn't been a more welcoming group of people than our former players," Miller said.
"Those guys care a lot of our program and I think it says about our fans and the university and the experience they had here as one where they want to continue to give back.
"Richard played in the NBA for 17 years. For him, six years into his NBA career, to give back what he did is incredible. That gift that everybody benefits from and our practice facility being named after him ... the fact that he gave back at that time of his life says all you need to know about him and his character and his love for Arizona.
"He deserves a heartfelt congratulations from all of us. If you play in the NBA for a year, that's quite an accomplishment. If you've been there for 17 years, that says it all. I'm glad he was able to walk away when he chose to, and maybe he'll visit us a little more often."
Jefferson ends with 14,904 career points for eight teams in the NBA, second among former Wildcats to Jason Terry (18,881), who is trying to find employment for his 20th NBA season.
Here is a story I wrote a few years ago for a chapter in "100 Things Arizona Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die," co-authored with Steve Rivera:
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Richard Jefferson's lasting Arizona legacy ended up having nothing to do with his springy legs, thunderous dunks and crazy athleticism that left jaws on the floor.
The legacy became about two things: Defense and generosity.
Classify them both under unselfishness.
Like most high school stars, Jefferson was never asked to play a lot of defense growing up, but in his junior season at Arizona he combined his greyhound athleticism with the ferocity of a pit bull to become one of the most noted lock-down defenders of the Lute Olson era. Led by Jefferson and 7-foot shot blocker Loren Woods, the 2000-01 team allowed opponents to shoot just 39.7 percent -- the second-best defensive mark of Olson's tenure -- as the Cats marched to the national championship game.
In the regional final, Jefferson, a 6-foot-7 wing, held Illinois guard Frankie Williams -- the Big Ten Player of the Year -- to 3 of 15 shooting and nine points. In the Final Four, Jefferson hounded Michigan State's Jason Richardson into a 2-of-11 shooting night. Richardson finished with six points, nine below his average.
"Once kids realize they get praise for doing the dirty work; they don't mind doing it as much," Arizona assistant Jay John said in the Seattle Times during the Final Four. "He just said, 'I'm going to try what you guys say. I'm going to defend and play hard.'"
Jefferson parlayed that defensive ability into an opportunity to leave for the NBA following his junior season after averaging 11.2 points and 5.0 rebounds during his Arizona career. He was selected 13th overall by Houston, which traded his draft rights to New Jersey. That launched an on-going 13-year NBA career in which Jefferson has earned nearly $107 million in salary.
Which brings us to the second thing about Jefferson's legacy.
That would his willingness to part with some of those piles of gold, giving $3.5 million to the Arizona athletic department in August 2007 toward the $14 million needed for the construction of a dedicated basketball facility next to McKale Center. The donation, which was believed at the time to be the largest ever given by a current athlete to his alma mater, earned Jefferson naming rights.
The Richard Jefferson Gymnasium, completed late in 2008, has been a boon for coach Sean Miller, both in terms of recruiting and player development, giving his players (and the famous alums who come to visit) a full-time home.
"For the most part, my main reason was to just give back to the school," Jefferson said upon the announcement of the gift. "My teammates with the New Jersey Nets, they probably get tired of me talking about Arizona so much.
"My second main reason was so they wouldn't ask Gilbert."
Talking further about naming rights, Jefferson joked: "We're going to call it the 'Not Gilbert Arena.'"
Those playful jibes at ex-teammate Gilbert Arenas came after Arenas wrote on his blog: "Me and Richard, for some reason, always end up having a bragging session when we're around each other and try to out-do one another. For some reason, he thinks he's better than me. He can't fathom that he's only the third best player from Arizona, and I'm No. 1. He just hates that I'm No. 1."
Jefferson was known at Arizona for his fun-loving personality, and he became best friends with classmate Luke Walton. They took their official visits together and committed together.
"Luke had that old cad convertible," Olson said. "You could see those two guys out there, and I'm sure they were hits with all the coeds."
That friendship would later get Jefferson in trouble with the NCAA, which suspended him one game during the 1999-2000 season because he had accepted tickets from Luke's famous father, Bill, to the NBA Finals and return travel to Tucson. Jefferson had to $281 to a charity as restitution for the travel.
Jefferson was a part of Olson's selective and effective recruiting of Phoenix-area prospects, a group that included Mike Bibby, Channing Frye and Jerryd Bayless. Jefferson, from Phoenix Moon Valley High, blew up as a major prospect the summer before his senior year, but Olson had already been hot on the trail.
In a Sport Illustrated story from August 1997 chronicling Jefferson's rise as part of a larger angle on summer recruiting, Seth Davis wrote that Olson called to remind Jefferson of Arizona's early interest.
"I think Lute's getting a little paranoid," Jefferson said with a grin.
Jefferson was worth the effort.
"He was a winner," Olson said. "He was accustomed to winning. He was a great 3-man because we could run certain plays where he'd run down and do things. We'd run the backdoor cut, and he'd hit shots. He could just jump over anyone."
And nobody has yet topped Jefferson's financial contribution.
"Without Coach Olson, none of this would be possible," he said in December 2008 at the dedication to the gym that bears his name. "He helped me become a man and to be very successful not only here but also in life."