MANILA, Philippines–Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been putting on a show in the Fiba World Cup, living up to the Kobe chants he’s been getting every game from fans.
On Wednesday, Hollis-Jefferson had a different audience on the floor–coaches who could pave the way for an NBA return and some of his former competitors who are rooting for his comeback like Team USA center Bobby Portis, whom he shares a history with.
“He has hell of a chance [to come back]. I just told him, he back now,” said Portis, who is a longtime friend of Hollis-Jefferson, after Team USA’s 110-62 clobbering of Jordan that completed a Group C sweep. “Life is all about facing adversities and challenges, and I think my guy did that.”
“He’s been out of the league for some time now, but he kept on chopping wood and carrying water. He didn’t give up. His game evelated and I think guys are going to take notice.”
Portis said he has known Hollis-Jefferson for close to 15 years. They were drafted into the NBA the same year in 2015 as 22nd and 23rd picks. They were even part of the same Mcdonald’s All-American team and Nike Hoops Summit in 2013.
While Portis went on to win an NBA title with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2021, Hollis-Jefferson went on a different route.
Hollis-Jefferson spent the longest time with the Brooklyn Nets from 2015 to 2019. But since last playing for the Portland Trail Blazers in 2021, he has bounced around several overseas leagues playing as an import.
He played for the TNT Tropang Giga in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) earlier this year, where he won his first ever pro title, before he was recruited by Jordan as a naturalized player for the Fiba World Cup, which brought him back to Manila.
“Once I was out of league, I had to reevaluate myself. I came out of high school and was top 25. I was in the green room for the (NBA Draft) lottery. I felt like I was on a pedestal. I [felt] like I could do anything I wanted. Not being in the NBA, and not having a roster spot kinda woke me up to humble myself,” Hollis-Jefferson said.
“And I felt I doubted myself. I thought I wasn’t capable of being a basketball player anymore, I wanted to give up. and I had one son at the time and he just kept me alive, kept the hope alive for me to keep going and keep pushing. I went through a lot, ups and downs but he kept me focused along with other people.”
He said he owed his resurgence to coach Eddie Casiano, whom he played for in the Atléticos de San Germán team in Puerto Rico’s Baloncesto Superior Nacional.
Hollis-Jefferson so far has scored the most number of points in this year’s World Cup with 39 in Jordan’s 95-87 loss to New Zealand on Monday, where he put on his best Kobe Bryant impression and eclipsed Luka Doncic’s 37-point production in Okinawa against Venezuela.
‘Brother for life’
This has led to conversations of Hollis-Jefferson possibly getting the attention of NBA teams back in the United States, and New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson couldn’t help but admire the former NBA forward’s dedication to staying on top of his game.
“I mean, one thing–NBA is very tough. Seeing a player like that, still playing basketball at a high level. Still doing things on the world stage. It’s very inspiring,” said Brunson of Hollis-Jefferson.
“Watching Rondae, a lot of people can’t take a lot out of that. When you get knocked down, and stay down, you get back up. The way he’s playing, he’s been a real inspiration for a lot of people.”
But whether he’s able to get a spot back in the NBA or continue plying his trade in other leagues in the world, Hollis-Jefferson will always have the support of Portis.
“I know Dennis Schröder got back into the league last year through the same type of event. I hope the same thing will go for Rondae,” said Portis. “I’m cheering for him through and through. That’s my brother for life.”
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