Al Jefferson is kind of hard to miss. He stands six feet, ten inches tall and, during the NBA season, can be seen playing center for the Utah Jazz. What's also pretty hard to miss is his smile; something he said he loved seeing on the faces of the young basketball players who showed up at his annual camp at Prentiss High School on Wednesday.
"That's what makes me do it every year," Jefferson said just outside the gym he dominated while playing at Prentiss, "just to see the smile on their face."
As big as the camp has been for the last three years, it seems to keep growing. Last year saw over 400 campers attend, and it's well on pace to see a similar number this year. "We get more and more kids every year, and it's a great success," he said, "I'm glad more kids are deciding to come out from all over, and come to my camp."
On just the first day, over 200 youngsters could be seen running, dribbling, shooting on the gym floor at Jefferson's alma mater. A big reason for that is what Jefferson charges for campers to attend...not a dime.
"I don't think there's nothing wrong with charging, for the players that do do it," Jefferson said with a slight chuckle, "but for me, in my home town, where I was born and raised, stuff like this doesn't happen all the time here.
"When it does happen, the last thing I want parents to worry about is how they're going to get their son or their daughter to that camp. I just feel like it was the right, and the only thing to do."
Jefferson's camp is widely known as the biggest in the state; only fitting for the big man drafted in 2004. "It makes me feel good, because people really appreciate what I'm doing," said Jefferson.
What the one-time state champion at Prentiss is doing goes beyond providing tips on the basketball court. Jefferson wants to instill a life lesson that whether it's basketball or another career that lies before you, a strong education and strong will can go a long way.
"It's all about getting an education," he said, "That's the one thing you can control. I just want the kids to know that, being in a small town like Prentiss...that you can make it.
"Put your heart into it, you can do anything you want to do. Not everyone is going to be a basketball player, not everyone is going to be a football player. You can make the best with the cards you were dealt."
As for his own career, Jefferson, 27, looks to push the Jazz back to the playoffs next season, and hopes to make a little noise with fellow Mississippian and Jackson native Mo Williams. As this time next summer, expect to see the big man, big smile and all, right back in Prentiss, maybe with an even bigger turnout.
"Me and my guys were talking this morning about, from day one to now, it's just a big dramatic change. So hopefully, in year ten, it will be even bigger."