By Kyle Daubs
Drake Jeffries has come a long way since leaving Mattoon.
The 2017 Mattoon High School senior has navigated through a lot in his journey. A knee injury in high school that required surgery scared off several Division I coaches. So he signed with Minot College in North Dakota and then spent his sophomore season at Indian Hills Community College.
The 6-foot-5, 185-pound guard helped Indian Hills go 30-3 and win 13 straight games to qualify for the Division I NJCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed before COVID wiped away the tournament. His performance was enough for Wyoming to recruit Jeffries.
About a third of the way into this season, Jeffries has solidified himself as a regular contributor for the 6-1 Cowboys. He has started four of six games and averages 9 points and 3.8 rebounds and shoots 43.2% from 3-point range.
“I’m just blessed to be able to wake up every day and play basketball,” said Jeffries. “Life is really good. It’s just fantastic to be able to do what I love at a high level and be around people that just want to make me better.”
Jeffries made 6 of 15 3-point attempts to score 19 points and grab eight rebounds in his first game with Wyoming a few weeks ago.
“It’s been a humbling experience,” said Jeffries. “It took me a while to get where I am. Started in North Dakota. Worked my tail off and then made it to Indian Hills. I was able to step on the court with my friends, family and my former JUCO coach in the stands and played some good minutes. I couldn’t have been happier.”
Jeffries struggled in his next two games. He made just two of 10 shots for 6 points in 37 minutes in a 76-74 loss to Texas Southern and then made one of three shots for three points in an overtime win over Incarnate Wood.
Jeffries then started on the road at Oregon State, but played in just eight minutes and did not score in Wyoming’s 76-73 victory.
“We had some guys come back from COVID issues and I was just honestly happy that we got the win even though I didn’t play much as I would have liked,” said Jeffries. “It was a great experience to go to a Power 5 school and beat them at their place.”
Jeffries said that he was allowed to “get his confidence back.” Since that rugged game against Oregon State, Jeffries has found his role on the team in coming off the bench. After scoring five points against Denver, Jeffries has average 20 points in his last two games.
In a 93-88 thriller of Utah Valley, Jeffries shot 6 of 8 from three-point range to finish with 19 points. His 33 minutes were the most since the second game of the season. Then, he followed that up by leading all scorers with 21 points in an 82-78 win over Omaha.
“Honestly, I think I like off the bench more,” said Jeffries. “It doesn’t bother me.”
Jeffries season stats at Wyoming
|Field Goal Pct.||41.8%|
|3-point FG Pct.||42.9%|
Jeffries is part of an offensive unit that ranks 27th in the nation in points-per-game. First-year head coach Jeff Linder took over after Wyoming went through two of the worst seasons in school history.
“He’s dialed in,” said Jeffries. “He’s all about us doing the right things and he’s always challenging us to be better every day. These guys are happy with him. We only have four guys back that had the old coach. They said they liked him, too, but we like the new coach as well. His offensive system is one of the best in the country.”
That system includes ranking tied for 14th in the nation for 3-point field goals made. According to Jeffries, Linder has given him the “green light” to shoot, which improved his confidence.
“I talked to the coach nearly every day and he’s told me that he needed me to make shots,” said Jeffries. “We’re always trying to get into the gym to work on shooting. It’s nice knowing that I have the green light from the head coach whenever I am open.”
Wyoming starts conference play in the Mountain West on Jan. 2 and Jan. 4 against Fresno State. The conference season has a different feel due to COVID. If Wyoming travels and plays a game, they will play the same team two days later instead of playing the game at home later in the season to help reduce travel time.
Before the season started, many media outlets predicted Wyoming to finish the 11-team conference season in ninth.
“Man, it’s going to be exciting,” said Jeffries. “ We have to go to Utah State, San Diego State, and New Mexico, which are just a few big-time programs that have had big-time players in the past. This team is bigger than me and we believe that we can compete with anybody. BYU just beat San Diego State, who was just ranked No. 18 in the country. If you bring it hard, you can win any game in this conference.”