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Jefferson: A masterpiece in progress

Amile Jefferson, at 6-foot-8 and 200 pounds, has a man's body, but he still exudes a boyish physical quality.

Friends' Central's Amile Jefferson was the most sought-after recruit in
Southeastern Pa. (David Swanson/Staff Photographer)
Friends' Central's Amile Jefferson was the most sought-after recruit in Southeastern Pa. (David Swanson/Staff Photographer)Read more

Amile Jefferson, at 6-foot-8 and 200 pounds, has a man's body, but he still exudes a boyish physical quality.

Judging by his young face and not-yet-filled frame, it's easy to forget when he's mingling with his teammates or running through mundane drills what he's truly capable of on the court.

But when the whistle blows, reminders come quickly.

At a recent Friends' Central practice, Jefferson received the ball on the left wing outside the three-point line. A teammate crouched in a defensive stance as if he had convinced himself that it would make a difference. Jefferson swung the ball in front of himself, hit his defender with a quick crossover dribble, and, two long strides later, was at the rim for an easy layup on a play that began about 19 feet away.

The ball didn't touch the wood inside the three-point arc. No weakside defender slid over to help. Jefferson just took off.

"Definitely something I've been working on," he said of his face-up game. "Definitely a work in progress."

Jefferson is a consensus top-50 recruit - some say in the top 25 - in the Class of 2012. The Phoenix sent several players to Division I programs in recent years, including Devin Coleman, now a freshman at Clemson.

But Friends' Central, which this season seeks a fourth straight Pennsylvania Independent School state championship, has something in Jefferson that it hasn't seen in a decade.

Coach Jason Polykoff probably knows that better than anyone. After all, he played with Hakim Warrick. The program's greatest success story, Warrick graduated from the Wynnewood private school in 2001, that year leading the Phoenix to their first Friends Schools League title.

"He reminds me of Hakim," said Polykoff, a high school teammate of Warrick's before playing at Haverford College. "Maybe not necessarily their game, but his gait, his demeanor, obviously the way he looks."

Jefferson, a Southwest Philly native who came to the school as a freshman, is the paragon of the Phoenix' second hoops golden age, the first one highlighted by Warrick. It also included Mustafa Shakur (a four-year starter at Arizona) and Mike Cook (Pitt).

"When I first starting coaching," said Polykoff, in his fifth year, "the plan was to get the team back to where it was when I was in high school. All of a sudden, here this kid walks in who looks like Hakim Warrick. . . . It's funny how it comes around like that."

Jefferson averaged about nine points and 5.5 rebounds as a freshman. As a sophomore, 15.1 and eight. Last season, a team-high 17.7 points and 9.7 rebounds.

As a senior, he'll have to do more. Gone are about 30 combined points of scoring from Coleman and Malique Killing, now at Division III Muhlenberg.

Nowadays, the Friends league is as tough as any, and Polykoff has scheduled challenges in Neshaminy and Math, Civics and Sciences Charter (2010 PIAA Class A state champ) - and trips to Massachusetts and Florida - in nonleague games.

"Last year, Coach could just roll the ball out there and let us go," Jefferson said. "This year, we have to be more fundamental."

He added: "Right now, we're just working hard and building an identity. We want to be the hardest-working team in the area. Especially losing players, now we want to outwork teams."

Polykoff can't resist comparing Jefferson's role this season to the high school version of Kobe Bryant, who led Lower Merion to a PIAA state title in 1996 as a do-it-all superstar.

Jefferson has help. Combo guard Karonn Davis, a junior being recruited by various midlevel Division I schools, is poised for a breakout year. A strong 6-foot-2, Davis will bully smaller guards and has a potent jumper. He has played with Jefferson since fifth grade in AAU.

"I think I'm a big asset to his game," Davis said of his longtime best friend. "I set him up to get great shots. And I think he loves it."

Guards Billy Cassidy and Conrad Chambers are two other starters, but as of last week, Polykoff hadn't determined who will be the fifth for a team that went 75-9 the last three years.

As the program seeks another private-school state title, another decision looms: where Jefferson will play in college.

Countless top programs have offered a full ride, and Jefferson has narrowed his choices to Ohio State, Kentucky, Connecticut, Villanova, and North Carolina State.

"We're working on it [the decision], to make it soon," he said of the decision.

Warrick - 6-9 and 219 pounds - played alongside Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse and won a national championship. He is a six-year NBA veteran.

As Jefferson develops, the comparisons could continue.