Brooks: Jeffery Tries To Find Her Niche With Liberty
BOULDER - Chucky Jeffery is back to doing what she loves - playing basketball - but she's discovering several differences between now and then, then being a stellar four years at the University of Colorado, now being a role player with the New York Liberty.
Her minutes with the Liberty aren't what they were with the Buffs, and the volume of her introductions at Madison Square Garden isn't close to what it was at the Coors Events Center.
In the minutes category, the then/now difference is 31.7 mpg over a four-year CU career to 4.6 mpg through eight games this season with the Liberty. In the volume category, it was "CHUCK-EEE JEFF-ER-EEE" at the CEC compared to what I'm guessing is a much, much lower decibel level at the refurbished but forever-grand MSG.
Jeffery doesn't mind either drop-off. In fact, she's not giving it much thought; she's dialed in instead on the day-to-day focus needed to absorb as much as she can about hoops at the next level and keep her spot on the roster.
"I'm doing really good," she said earlier this week in a telephone interview. "I'm still getting used to the team, to my teammates and trying to put things together on the court. And I really love New York."
But mostly, she loves being back on the court. She is with a team that affords her a comfortable fit, one that has "a lot of different pieces," she said. "We all bring different strengths, things that are not all coming from one person. I don't know about the other (WNBA) teams but I think we're different in that respect. And I do know that we play hard every day. All my teammates are real competitors. We're still getting used to each other, developing chemistry, but everybody is getting along."
This is Jeffery's second tour with the Liberty. Initially drafted by the Minnesota Lynx in the second round of the 2013 WNBA Draft (24th player taken overall), Jeffery was released before the regular season began. The Liberty signed her last August to a seven-day contract, but she played in only two games.
Yet that proved to be a "foot-in-the-door" opportunity that carried over to this season. In mid-April, after staying in touch with her and letting her know which facets of her game needed improvement, New York signed her to a contract. She began competing for a spot on the roster when training camp opened at the end of the month.
She made it.
|Chucky Jeffery made her WNBA debut in 2013 and made the 2014 opening day roster with the Liberty.
Photo: Avi Gerver MSG/Photos
"BEING ON THE FLOOR WITH great players, I'm learning something every day," she said. "Cappie (Pondexter), Alex (Montgomery) - really everybody I'm playing with - they've all taught me so much." (Pondexter is an eighth-year pro who played at Rutgers, Montgomery a third-year pro from Georgia Tech.)
Continued Jeffery: "I think for me, the transition to different defenses - different from what I saw in college - has been the biggest thing. I'm just getting acclimated to that. You have to trust teammates to be in the right spots and they have to trust you.
"That's probably the biggest change . . . there are a lot of great guards, a lot of fast guards, in this league. I'm continuing to work on individual defense; it's something you have to do every day."
Offensively, Jeffery said the Liberty, which is coached by former Detroit Pistons' "Bad Boy" Bill Laimbeer, "runs a lot of pick and roll . . . coming off picks, you've got to make the right reads, the right passes. You have to know where the ball goes and how to get it there."
It all amounts to her being a work in progress, but this is work she loves. A determination to improve her game always has been a Jeffery strong suit. In her time after she was released by the Lynx and the Liberty, she elected not to try and play overseas but returned to her hometown of Colorado Springs and continued to train and play with her younger brother (by a month) Jaray Simmons, who's in the U.S. Army and stationed at nearby Fort Carson. She said that experience kept her focused on getting back to the WNBA.
As of Thursday, the Liberty was 3-6 and tied with Connecticut at the bottom of the WNBA's East Conference. Atlanta leads the conference with a 5-3 mark. Regular-season play continues through the middle of August. Jeffery has played in eight games, averaging 4.6 minutes, 1.5 points and 1.0 rebounds. The Liberty plays host to Connecticut on Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
In her four years at CU, Jeffery's athleticism and physical play separated her from many of the players in the Big 12 and Pac-12 Conferences. Those traits undoubtedly played well with Laimbeer, whose Pistons teams won back-to-back NBA championships in 1989-90. During his 14-year career, the 6-9, 260-pound Laimbeer relished the idea of being the NBA's favorite villain, the consummate "black hat" who also could play more than a little in addition to throwing his considerable weight around.
The 5-10 Jeffery, of course, wasn't known for that brand of physicality with the Buffs, but her career numbers made her stand out just as prominently. She is the only player in CU women's history to record 1,600 points, 900 rebounds and 400 assists. Averaging 13.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists (all team highs) as a senior in 2012-13, she ended her career sixth in scoring (1,644), fifth in rebounding (921) and fourth in assists (481). She was a two-time All-Pac-12 selection as well as an honorable mention All-American and a Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) All-Region nominee for the 2013 WBCA Division I Coaches' All-America Team.
|Chucky Jeffery is the first player in Colorado history to record 1,600 points, 900 rebounds and 400 assists.|
JEFFERY HAS KEPT IN TOUCH with the CU coaching staff and has also spoken "a lot" with former teammates Brittany and Ashley Wilson. "I didn't lose too many of my CU ties."
If playing in New York is new to Jeffery, the city itself isn't. As a youngster, Jeffery and her family visited the East Coast - specifically Richmond, Va. - to see her grandmother and sometimes made their way to New York. Her stepfather moved to the city during training camp, her younger sister hopes to visit next month and her family hopes to come to the Garden for a game.
"I hope it all works out," she said.
During training camp in April, the Liberty was treated to a New York harbor cruise and an up-close look of the Statue of Liberty, which was new for Jeffery. "It's really been fun," she said. "There's so much to do you never get bored."
Boredom never will be an option. Even with so much going on and distractions on every street corner, Jeffery remains single-minded. She is focused on making the most of her free agency and making it in the WNBA.
"I knew a lot of things could happen (when she was released last August)," she said. "I continued to work on what I needed to work on, and them keeping in contact made me a little more comfortable . . . I just knew I had to keep working.
"I try to stay optimistic about it. You never know about free agency. All I can do is continue to get better, get accustomed to the game at this level. I didn't start my freshman year at CU, which was different from high school. But I came off the bench and they liked the spark I brought (to the Buffs). When you're on the bench, you can see how things are going without being on the court then make adjustments when you get out there.
"Even though I might not be getting 20 minutes now, I know I've got to be playing hard for three, four minutes - whatever I get. I might not be the star, I know that. But I can be a great defensive player, a great rebounding player. You can do those things for a long time in this league."
That's her goal, but she doesn't want to look too far into the future. She's learning the meaning of day-to-day, which is never a bad lesson for anyone at any age to learn.