By Kyle Daubs
Despite the outcomes, Drake Jeffries lived the dream.
Jeffries, the 2017 Mattoon High School graduate, played in the NCAA Division I Tournament, but the added cherry on top was participating in the NCAA Division I 3-Point Contest. Jeffries was one of eight players selected nationally, joining some elite talent from the Big 10 Conference.
In the NCAA Tournament, Wyoming was defeated in the First Four games by Indiana 66-58, while Jeffries finished eighth in the shootout, but it all remains a top experience.
“Definitely a top-5 experience,” said Jeffries. “Something that I will never take for granted. The outcomes may not have been what we wanted, but it was overall a really good experience.”
In the second half, Wyoming cut the score to 49-44 after a scoring drought. Wyoming continued to hang around and then cut the lead to 60-54 after Hunter Maldonado converted a three-point play.
A front end of a one-of-one missed. A missed layup here. One of 19 Wyoming turnovers, which was eight more than its season average, broke up the rhythm. While one can look at nine turnovers from Wyoming’s best player in Maldonado, Jeffries was not happy with his overall performance.
Jeffries finished the game with four points and 10 rebounds, his first field not coming until 23 seconds were left in the game. Known for his outside shooting, where he led the team in 3-point field goals, Jeffries converted 0-for-7 from beyond the arc.
“It was definitely a tough one,” said Jeffries. “I just couldn’t get going early. I just wish I did. They were heavy on me. When I got looks, I rushed them. The arena was cool, but you felt like you were at an away game. The game was sold out and you had 12,000 people there, but most were Indiana fans. I just wished I didn’t rush my shot and could get locked in and do what I normally did all season.”
Jeffries said that the turnovers were the biggest difference in the game.
“The runs are part of basketball,” said Jeffries. “You are going to have ups and downs, but we turned the ball over like 20 times. If we don’t do that, it’s maybe a different outcome and we go to St. Mary’s. It’s something I think about every day. I wish we had it back, but we can’t. Now, we just need to look to the offseason and get stronger for next year.”
Trayce Jackson-Davis led Indiana with 27 points in that game and figures to be a late first-round NBA draft prospect. After playing in the Mountain West Conference, which featured four NCAA tournament teams, Jeffries said that Jackson-Daivs was probably one of the best players he saw all season.
“He’s a different animal,” said Jeffries. “He’s super athletic and all left-handed. It will be interesting to see where he goes in the draft.”
After the tournament loss, Jeffries participated in the Intersport 3-on-3 Tournament, which was sponsored by Dos Equis, in New Orleans. His team lost in the quarterfinals. The following day he participated in the Three-Point Contest.
Jeffries joined a group that featured Carl Pierce (Rice), Alex O’Connell (Creighton), Jordan Bohannon (Iowa), Brad Davison (Wisconsin), Davion Mintz (Kentucky), and Alfonso Plummer (Illinois), and Sasha Stefanovic (Purdue).
Jeffries made just four 3-point shots in the first round. The shootout was eventually won by Bohannon, but Jeffries called it a fun experience.
“It was a blast to meet a lot of those guys,” said Jeffries. “I got to hang out with Bohanon, Davison, and Plummer. We had a really good time. I didn’t shoot my best, but I enjoyed being there.”
Now, Jeffries said that the dream has been filled and he has snapped back to reality. With one year of eligibility remaining, he will return to Wyoming with hopes of making it back to the NCAA Tournament.
“I have my feet back on the ground,” said Jeffries. “I will be back in the gym working hard and trying to get ready for the season. It was a dream. I got to feel what it was like to be a superstar. When we go places, you have kids ask for autographs. I was at the airport and a kid asked for a picture. It’s pretty cool being known around the country, but you have to stay humble. I’m excited for the opportunities to come and what the future holds.”