PGU is counting down our 25 greatest Wildcats of all time. To see the honorable mention and how the rankings are formulated, click here.
#25: Hassan Adams (35.08)
#24: Sean Rooks (35.29)
#23: Anthony Cook (35.74)
#22: Al Fleming (37.31)
#21: Chase Budinger (37.52)
#20: Loren Woods (37.57)
#19: Michael Wright (37.85)
#18: Jud Buechler (38.07)
#17: Salim Stoudamire (39.15)
#16: Derrick Williams (40.31)
#15: Bob Elliott (41.86)
#14: Channing Frye (42.13)
#13: Richard Jefferson (43.86)
Time as a Wildcat
After putting together one of the most successful high school basketball careers in Arizona state history at Moon Valley, Richard Jefferson signed to play for Lute Olson in the spring of 1998.
His ability to do a little bit of everything on the court — scoring in the post, stepping back to make treys, dishing out assists — made him as integral as any player to put on an Arizona uniform in his three year span.
A McDonald’s All-American, there was a fair amount of hype surrounding Jefferson in his freshman season. While he was not a stat stuffer, he did occasionally put up some impressive box scores. Against Washington State, he scored 25 points to go with 12 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks.
The ‘98-99 season ended in major disappointment with a first round loss to No. 13 seed Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament.
Jefferson missed almost two months of his sophomore season fighting injuries and when he returned, he never made a significant impact. Even without him, Arizona earned a share of the Pac-10 title and was rewarded with a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.
For the second year in a row, the Cats were upset in the opening weekend, this time by Wisconsin. In the loss, Jefferson managed to play only 16 minutes. If he had been healthy, who knows how far that team could have gone. The following season was going to be one of redemption.
Midnight Madness gave fans a taste of what was to come in the ‘00-01 season. At one point, Jefferson brought out two probably frightened Arizona students. The 6’7 forward easily cleared both of them and threw down a powerful dunk, much to the delight of the erupting fans at McKale.
Little did people in Tucson know at the time that the entire season was going to be like one magnificent dunk contest. At the Maui Invitational championship game, Jason Gardner from beyond half court tossed Jefferson a ball that was destined to go out of bounds. Even after watching the YouTube video of the alley-oop a hundred times, its still unfathomable how Jefferson caught the ball and dunked it.
The next February in a rout against Washington, Gilbert Arenas, Gardner, and Jefferson were all apart of another mind-blowing moment. Following a missed Husky shot, Arenas rebounded the ball, dribbled twice to where he was 10 feet behind the center court line, and then made a low pass to Gardner. From there, the All-American point guard gently threw the ball up to Jefferson, who was called for a technical after hanging on the rim too long. After the play, all viewers could hear in the background was a faint U-of-A chant, as the Washington fans were in complete awe of what they had just witnessed.
While the chemistry on the team was impeccable, Arizona couldn’t slaughter Duke in the national championship game. Jefferson did everything he could, scoring 19 points along with eight rebounds, but it wasn’t enough, although it did earn him an All-Final Four selection.
Career After Arizona
Jefferson was 13th overall pick in the 2001 Draft, selected by Houston but was immediately traded to New Jersey. With the Nets, he found great success. He scored averaged double figures in scoring in every season but his first. He was also a part of the 2004 Olympic team which earned a Bronze medal.
In June of 2008, Jefferson was traded to Milwaukee where he started every game in his one year as a Buck. Almost exactly one year later, he was traded to the Spurs. In San Antonio, he wasn’t as much of a scoring threat but started nearly every game.
Then this past March, the Spurs traded him to Golden State. With the Warriors, Jefferson averaged nine points. His career scoring average is 15.8 points per game.
Jefferson was already forever a fan favorite in Tucson before he donated $3.5 million to help pay for a state-of-the-art gym facility for the basketball program. It was and still is the single largest donation a professional athlete has given to his or her alma mater.