Take one look at Joshua Jefferson, and it’s easy to assume he’s a standout basketball player.
At 6 feet, 9 inches and 240 pounds, the recently graduated Liberty power forward always had the size to dominate in the paint, but he expanded his game throughout his high school career and became a true matchup nightmare.
Jefferson averaged 17.7 points on 52 percent shooting, 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals during his senior year, and the combination of size, skill and intelligence helped him lead the Patriots to the Class 5A state championship.
He’s already moved on to the next level, having begun summer workouts with St. Mary’s, but he has received one more high school award as the Nevada Preps All-Southern Nevada Boys Athlete of the Year.
“His basketball IQ is one of the best I’ve ever coached,” Liberty coach Kevin Soares said. “A lot of times when I tell kids to do different things, it’s like I’m speaking another language. I often didn’t have to say anything to Joshua. We made eye contact, and he knew what he needed to do.”
In the biggest game of the season, the state championship game against Bishop Gorman, Jefferson’s shot wasn’t falling. He was 5 of 16, including 0 of 3 from 3-point range, but he came up big when it mattered the most. Jefferson scored the final six points in regulation, including a turnaround jumper with 38 seconds left to tie the score at 56.
The Patriots went on to stun the Gaels 63-62 in overtime, ending their nine-year reign as state champions and handing Liberty its first title.
Jefferson sat back and reflected on the bench after collecting his medal, with many of his teammates and coaches joyously celebrating around him. It was the only time in four tries throughout the season that Liberty beat Gorman.
“We gave a lot of people hope to know they are beatable, but you have to have the right pieces and the right timing,” Jefferson said. “People were behind us. People don’t like seeing the same team win over and over again.”
The win was especially satisfying for Jefferson considering the way the third matchup of the season ended. That was the 5A Southern Region championship game on Gorman’s home floor, and it was intense and chippy.
In the final seconds of Gorman’s 77-61 win, Jefferson was on the Liberty bench when a Gorman player was nearby with the ball. Jefferson reached out and flipped the ball out of his hands and was called for his second technical foul of the game and ejected.
“The first technical wasn’t supposed to be assessed to me,” Jefferson said. “There was a foul, and I was over someone, and they tried to push me off. The second one, I deserved. I just have to be more levelheaded when adversity is coming my way. That’s not who I am, and it’ll never happen again.”
The ejection carried a one-game suspension, so Jefferson had to sit out the state semifinals against Douglas. His teammates’ mantra all week was to not let Jefferson’s final act as a high school player be the ejection, and Liberty ran past Douglas 62-43.
Soares called the situation a blessing in disguise because the Patriots had to rely on other players, which gave them confidence for the championship game. It also gave Jefferson an extra day to rest after he didn’t practice all week with various bumps and bruises.
Despite that one hiccup, Soares called Jefferson the “ultimate leader,” a sentiment that teammate Aaron Price echoed.
“He’s the best high school player I’ve ever played with,” Price said. “He’s never afraid to give you knowledge you can use. He’s also not afraid to get on teammates. He’s a model player that people want to be like because he takes care of business on and off the court.”
The Review-Journal will announce its year-end awards throughout the week.
Monday: Girls Athlete of the Year
Tuesday: Boys Athlete of the Year
Wednesday: Coach of the Year
Thursday: Game of the Year
Friday: Team of the Year