- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

ATLANTA Jared Jeffries goes to the school, plays on the team, calls the state home. Heck, he's even seen the tear-jerking Gene Hackman movie of the very same name.

Nevertheless, the Indiana forward has no idea what a Hoosier is.

"Don't ask me because I've never known," Jeffries said with a laugh. "And I've lived in Indiana my whole life."

While Jeffries' admission is a bit surprising, chances are the Indiana faithful will forgive him. After all, the sophomore star is more than a model Hoosier he's a new breed, and one of the main reasons upstart Indiana is in the Final Four for the first time in a decade.

Indiana faces Oklahoma in the national semifinals tonight at the Georgia Dome, with the victor advancing to Monday night's championship game against the winner of the Maryland-Kansas semifinal.

"Jared Jeffries is one of the best players in college basketball," said Oklahoma senior forward Aaron McGhee. "He can pass, dribble, post up, play inside and outside. He has great skill."

Does he ever. A lanky, 6-foot-10 talent along the lines of Kevin Garnett and Scottie Pippen, Jeffries handles the ball like a guard, defends like a small forward and owns some of the best back-to-the-basket moves in the college game.

As such, he's a matchup headache for opponents the Big Ten Player of the Year is averaging 17 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in the NCAA tournament and the focal point of Indiana's motion offense.

"I set the offense up for Jared Jeffries to cause confusion and havoc," Indiana coach Mike Davis said. "He's our guy, and he's the guy that opposing teams are trying to figure out how to stop. He has that presence. We play off of him."

Just ask Duke. Playing on a partially sprained right ankle, Jeffries led Indiana to a 74-73 Sweet 16 upset of the defending national champions, flummoxing the Blue Devils for 24 points and 15 rebounds.

Two days later in the South Region final, Kent State attempted to slow Jeffries with a flurry of defensive double- and triple-teams. The result? Wide-open Indiana shooters connected on 15 of 19 3-pointers, and the Hoosiers earned an 81-69 victory.

"Duke decided to let [Jared] just go one-on-one, and he really hurt them," said Indiana junior guard Tom Coverdale. "Then Kent State saw that and decided to double him. We were able to knock down shots. Basically, what we've done all year [is] feed off JJ, and see what the [other] team gives us."

The Hoosiers almost didn't get the chance. A schoolboy star at Bloomington (Ind.) High School North, Jeffries barely noticed his hometown team until his sophomore year of high school.

"When I was a little kid, [Indiana] really wasn't exciting," he said. "They didn't have guys coming down, throwing [alley]-oops and dunking. They wore the little shorts. I liked the Fab Five [at Michigan], North Carolina. Even Kansas had some good teams."

That all changed in 1998, when then-Indiana coach Bob Knight brought in Davis as an assistant. His first assignment? Land Jeffries, a budding superstar who earned National High School Player of the Year honors in 2000.

It wasn't an easy task. Despite a raft of tradition and a 1992 Final Four appearance, Indiana was unable to attract top prep talent for much of the 1990s, largely because of its stodgy, old-school image.

"But Coach Davis really sold me on the idea of coming in and being an impact player," said Jeffries, who chose Indiana over Duke. "IU hadn't really had an impact player like myself in a long time, and that really appealed to me. I wanted to help IU become a new-age type team."

That process accelerated following Knight's ugly dismissal in September 2000. Rather than transfer, Jeffries stuck with Indiana, largely because of his close relationship with Davis.

"He's just honest," Jeffries said. "He's personable. I can call him whenever I need to talk to him. I'll go over to his house with his family. A lot of players don't have that with their coach."

The results were immediate: Indiana earned a surprising NCAA tournament berth, Davis was given a four-year contract extension and Jeffries was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

"Where Jared goes, we go," said Indiana senior guard Dane Fife.

And though Indiana hasn't quite morphed into Globetrotters Midwest over the last two seasons its starting five looks a whole lot like Jeffries and four guys from the local Y Jeffries is willing to accept comparisons to the giant-killing Hoosiers of cinematic fame.

Whatever their nickname really means.

"I wish it was more of an 'Above the Rim' type movie," Jeffries said. "But we can roll with 'Hoosiers.'"

More importantly, the Hoosiers can roll with him.

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