His team up three points coming out of halftime and UK Coach John Calipari sitting directly behind the basket he was about to attack, D.J. Jeffries decided it was time to put on a show.
The five-star basketball recruit was just fine in the first half, scoring 10 points and playing with lots of energy to help Olive Branch (Miss.) jump ahead of Adair County at the break.
In the second half, Jeffries took it up a couple of notches.
He scored 25 points after halftime — finishing with 35 for the game — and he did it in a variety of ways. He also did it all under the watchful eye of Calipari.
There were lots of backboard-ratting dunks from the 6-foot-7 small forward, who caught one pass off the glass before throwing it down. He hit a long baseline jumper from just a couple of steps inside the arc. He nailed a three-pointer. He posted up on the baseline — just outside the paint — caught the ball, turned and hit a 10-footer, seemingly from an angle behind the backboard.
He also grabbed 11 rebounds, dished out three assists, started fast breaks and played active defense.
After the game, everyone wanted a piece of him.
Jeffries stood on the edge of the court signing autographs and posing for photos with young fans, a big smile on his face the entire time.
“It was an amazing feeling,” he said. “I was once like them, when I was younger. It feels good to have people looking up to you.”
A few feet away, a line had formed for autographs and photos with Calipari, who hopped on a plane and made the trip to the Marshall County Hoop Fest as soon as his Cats defeated Harvard earlier in the day at Rupp Arena.
One of the security guards in the gym surveyed both lines of autograph-seekers.
“There are more for D.J. than there are for Cal,” he concluded.
Many of the fans seeking out Jeffries’ attention wore UK gear. Some of them implored him to pick the Wildcats. His answers to recruiting questions from reporters a few minutes later suggested Kentucky is in a pretty good spot.
“I tried to put on a good show for the fans, because they might see me in a couple years,” Jeffries said.
He’s the No. 18 overall prospect nationally in the junior class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, and he was the second player from that group to earn a scholarship offer from Calipari.
Jeffries’ high school is just across the state line from Memphis, where Calipari coached for nine years before coming to Kentucky.
“I wanted to go to Memphis until he left,” Jeffries acknowledged Saturday. “It’s an honor to know that a coach like Calipari is watching me. He’s one of the legendary coaches.”
The buzz in recruiting circles is that UK is the early leader for Jeffries, who listed off several other schools that have been in regular contact — many of them in the Southeastern Conference — and said he was “still thinking” about what the best destination would be for him.
His answer to a question about his recent visit to UK’s Big Blue Madness — his only recruiting trip this fall, he said — might have been the most telling, as far as the Wildcats’ chances to ultimately land his commitment.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “People in Kentucky, they love their basketball team. I feel like that’s something I want to be a part of.”