Dukes Jefferson fights through pain to the end of a long career

Fifth-year senior ignores foot injury to stay on the floor

Mark Dolejs—USA Today Sports
Feb 9

Durham — After each ACC game at Cameron Indoor Stadium this season, Amile Jefferson would sit at a stool in front of his locker, take off his shoes and explain to the media what they’re trying this time.Jefferson has hobbled through the year, with a painful foot injury — a bone bruise on his right foot, suffered early in conference play. The medical staff has spent the season experimenting, trying to find a way to make life easy for the fifth-year senior.One game, the foot is wrapped up like a mummy. In another, there’s a special pad installed in his shoe.”Today I put less stuff in my shoe and went with a patch,” he said after one game, gingerly peeling away a gauze pad taped to the top of his right foot, revealing a large, lingering bruise underneath.”We’re trying a whole bunch of different things,” he explained.With all the attention on his foot, the question is bound to come up — is the foot getting any better?Jefferson, hesitant to lie, even to the media, generally tries to avoid giving a direct answer. “They tell me I can’t make it any worse by playing on it,” he’ll answer, instead.The fact of the matter is that Jefferson has spent the final two months of his college career in pain. It keeps him from practicing. It’s left him in a protective boot from time to time. And, occasionally, it’s kept him off the floor during games, but probably not as often as it should.”I don’t know if I’ll be 100 percent,” he said, “but basketball players play through injuries. I’m going to keep saying that. That’s what players do — they play through injuries.”Jefferson has referred to the constant pain as a “distraction” and “background noise” and has resigned himself to gritting his teeth and enduring it. “I’m good with where I am and I just have to keep fighting,” he said after one game shortly after suffering the injury.”You start to forget about other things like pain,” he said after another game. “You start to focus.”In a season where Duke’s entire roster has been ravaged by injuries, Jefferson has led by stoic example, refusing to use his own bad foot as an excuse. It’s just the latest way that Duke’s leader has helped to set the pace for the team in recent years.Last season, in what should have been Jefferson’s senior year, another injury to his right foot — this one a fracture — sidelined him for more than four months. The NCAA gave him an additional year, and he opened this season with a vengeance.”Amile is our most important player,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said, citing the big man’s ability to communicate on the floor and contribute in a variety of ways.Jefferson can score, but he’s also willing to let others get their points, while he does the dirty work inside. He’s currently fourth on Duke’s career offensive rebounding list and is fifth in the ACC in rebounds and double-doubles.”He does so much stuff that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet,” associate coach Jeff Capel said, “and his stat sheet is usually pretty good. But he still does a lot of stuff that doesn’t show up. He’s an important part of what we do.”Jefferson can also pass out of the post extremely well, setting up Duke’s outside shooters with assists.”On that play, that’s a vintage Duke play,” Jefferson explained. “You look back, however far you go, Duke makes that play, where a big guy or a four, gets that rebound and kicks it out. It’s like a dagger. It deflates the other team when you do that. That’s been a trademark of Duke and our Duke teams.”Jefferson will be honored before Duke’s final home game, against Florida State, on the team’s Senior Day. If it’s up to him, he’ll then take the floor and do everything he can to beat the Seminoles.It might not be his decision, however. Jefferson played limited minutes in his previous game, and Krzyzewski has openly talked about resting his injured players — Jefferson and Grayson Allen — down the stretch to try to have them ready for tournament season.Whether in uniform or a suit, foot packed in gauze or loose and open, or nestled in some other device rigged up by the training staff, Jefferson will shout instructions to his teammates, wear his emotions on his sleeve and do everything in his power to lead the team — his team — to a win.