Idaho’s Big Man on Hardwood established himself as a true force in the Division I paint last year, and Marvin Jefferson is back for his senior season with high expectations for himself and his team.
Last year, Jefferson made his mark as the Vandals’ only true big man — he was the only player on the roster with the size and skills to match up at center in a conference filled with talent in the paint.
Averaging 9.1 points, 4.5 boards and 1.8 blocks (3rd-best in the WAC) per game, Jefferson’s production and presence were vital to Idaho’s unexpected turnaround season.
We sat down with Jefferson to talk about his time at Idaho, his development as a player and his outlook for the hoops season that’s about to begin.
In fact, we have so much good stuff from Marvin, we’re breaking it into two parts. In this first half, he looks back at his first year in a Vandal uniform — in the second half, he’ll talk about the upcoming hoops season.
How did you get your start in hoops?
When I was younger, I played football a lot and that was my favorite sport. But when I got to high school, I was taller than everyone and the basketball coaches were hounding me. I started playing my sophomore year and went straight to varsity. I’ve been playing ever since.
How’d you end up at Idaho?
I was playing my sophomore year at Modesto Junior College and I had a whole lot of schools looking at me. There were big-time schools, mid-majors, everyone. Then my first semester I failed a couple classes, and a lot of schools stopped looking at me. They gave up, they didn’t think I was going to make the grade.
That’s when Coach Verlin came to me. He was one of the last coaches to recruit me and I was almost committed to another program. He started talking to me and I just liked the situation that was up there. I came up here on a visit and I loved the community, the college experience and the atmosphere that Idaho has. All the players seemed cool and I thought that with all the guys coming in, we could make something good happen here.
Clearly, you did make something happen — from being picked last to having the best season in years.
I knew from the beginning that once all the guys came together and were playing as one, that we’d be good. There was no doubt in my mind, because it was about us proving everybody wrong.
The biggest problem last year was that all the guys were new and they were coming into a brand-new program, and we had to get the chemistry going and get to know each other and learn the system. We played our best basketball toward the end of the season because we all got a better feel for each other.
How difficult was it to be the only guy on the team with the size to match up inside? You played a lot of minutes.
Well, I wasn’t on the bench much — and when I was, it was because I was in foul trouble!
When I came here, my number one goal was to get the starting spot. I’ve pretty much started every game I’ve ever played and I didn’t expect it to be any different here. So it was a matter of me working hard. When I got that job I felt privileged and wanted to do the best job I possibly could. I’m thinking the same thing this year.
Yeah, there were a lot of whistles on you last year. What happened?
I have to get better there. A lot of that was me adjusting to the speed of the game and me being able to handle the pressure. You know, going from junior college to Division I is a real big step up. I had to adjust to the type of player that I was playing against, the bigger guys, and I feel like I progressed there for sure toward the end of the season. One of my biggest goals for this year is to be on the floor more, and that means playing clean.
Did the lack of depth really hurt at the WAC Tournament?
Maybe… but we also made a lot of mistakes in that game. That was a game where we beat ourselves, if you ask me.
Does that early out have you fired up to come out strong this year?
If it was up to us, we’re going to win every game. (Laughs) Last year we surprised everybody and to a certain extent we surprised ourselves with how well we did. We want to do the same this year and exceed everyone’s expectations. Yeah, the expectations are higher but we want to do even better than that.
How do you think you’ve progressed as a player?
My coaches have helped me out a lot. Coming from the JC level, I learned that in Division I there’s a lot more attention to detail. When you get here, they point out every little thing that’s wrong with your game. You have to take that criticism and use it. I learned to accept the fact that I wasn’t at the highest level, and wasn’t the player I could be. I had a lot of work to do. The coaches point out your weaknesses and try to make them your strengths. I think the work I’ve put in over the summer will make me a much better player.
What did you learn about the Boise State rivalry?
I learned that it’s a real big deal. When we won that game, I didn’t expect what happened, everyone rushed the court and I almost got tackled. I was overwhelmed. Really, I felt it more the second game, especially after the words that were exchanged, that made me realize the rivalry more. You know, in rivalries like that, someone’s always got something to say. When that guy (Anthony Thomas) said what he said, I was like “OK, this is a rivalry, we have something to play for when we go to Boise.”
He said, they’d never lose to us again. In my mind, now I’m looking forward to all the Boise State games. I want to make it so he never wins again. But, you know, we’re not going to say much, we’re just going to play hard and let the scoreboard do the talking.
You sealed the deal in that game. Was that your biggest bucket of the year?
Everyone would probably say so. (Laughs) It was exciting for me. I was amped, especially the way we were playing in the first half, being down 15-2. To come back like that, for them to stop that shot and for me to grab the rebound and put it back, that was bigtime. I think that might have been my first gamewinning basket. I was amped, I was jumping up and down, slapping high-fives, doing chest bumps with everyone, it was crazy.
One thing about that night I remember, that will always stay with me. When I first got to the stadium I looked and it was all Boise State fans. I couldn’t believe how many people were there and I didn’t think we had any fans there. All of a sudden in the second half, I started hearing the I-D-A-H-O chant, and I looked up and there’s this big section of Idaho fans up there. It made me feel proud to be a Vandal.
You know, at first it’s like you’re proud to be playing Division I but you’re at Idaho. It’s cold, a small town, I’m from California and never lived in a small city like this. That feeling, it makes you proud to be where you are and proud to be part of this program.
We’ll have the rest of our interview with Marvin tomorrrow.