Philly area natives Tahjere McCall, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson bond on Nets' summer league team

Philly area natives Tahjere McCall, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson bond on Nets' summer league team

LAS VEGAS -- A distance of 23 miles is minimal in the grand scheme of the NBA.

So when North Philadelphia’s Tahjere McCall and Chester’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson met for the first time on the Nets' summer league squad, they clicked instantly.

“We like to see other kids from our area do good,” Hollis-Jefferson said.

Hollis-Jefferson and McCall, who attended high schools just 23 miles away, took very different paths to get to the same summer league squad.

Hollis-Jefferson became a McDonald’s All-American while at Chester High School. He declared for the NBA draft after two years of college ball at Arizona. He was selected 23rd overall in 2015 and is entering his third season in the league. Hollis-Jefferson already has played in 107 games for the Nets.  

McCall went to Carver High School of Engineering & Science in Philadelphia. He didn’t play high school basketball until his junior year and never played on the AAU circuit. McCall initially attended Niagara before transferring to Tennessee State, where he graduated this spring. The Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year, McCall went undrafted in June and received a summer league invite from the Nets after making an impression during a pre-draft workout. He also worked out for the Sixers at one point before the draft.

Despite different their different paths, the two players bonded.

“He has the best personality, kind of reminds me of me,” Hollis-Jefferson said with a laugh. “It’s amazing to have that around you, that energy. I just gravitated to him and likewise. It was fun being out there, him dancing. It’s good to see people like that. Teams like when you have somebody that can bring up the energy.”

Hollis-Jefferson averaged 23.5 minutes for the Nets in the summer league. McCall, however, was sidelined because of injuries. He didn’t appear in the games, yet stayed positive over the two weeks.

“[I want to show I am a] good character kid,” McCall said, maintaining eye contact and keeping a smile throughout the entire interview. “Everybody out here is skilled and could do things, but I just want to be a good teammate and a good person.”

Hollis-Jefferson is under contract with the Nets this coming season. McCall will try to continue his basketball career at the next level. He knows he has a lot to prove, but he’s been in this situation before.

“You get it from being in Philly — wherever you go, you feel like you’re the best player and nobody can beat you,” McCall said. “But flying under the radar, that just let me be myself and let me move freely. I’m used to it so it doesn’t really bother me anymore.”

Allen Iverson influenced culture of Philadelphia-area youth, local NBA players

Allen Iverson influenced culture of Philadelphia-area youth, local NBA players

Allen Iverson captured the attention of fans around the world who aspired to one day play ball like him.

The influence was even stronger for NBA hopefuls growing up in the Philadelphia area. As young basketball fans watched Iverson dominate for their hometown team, he inspired them to pursue their pro dreams. 

For a handful, the NBA goals fueled by Iverson have become a reality. On the brink of Iverson’s induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday, those from Philadelphia reflected on how he impacted their careers. 

“I don’t even know if he realizes how much he really touched the people and how all the young kids wanted to be him,” Heat guard Wayne Ellington recently said. 

Ellington and Sixers guard Gerald Henderson played basketball at Episcopal Academy. Ellington bought an entire Iverson uniform down to the sneakers and styled his hair in cornrows. Henderson bought Iverson shoes, too, and often wore a headband or wristband on the court. To this day, Henderson still dons an Iverson shirt.

“He’s the man,” Henderson said. “People know that, but if you grew up in Philly, then you really get it. What he’s meant to the city since ‘96, just his style and how hard he played, everybody embraced him and he embraced the city. You would think he’s from here.”

Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson grew up in Chester. Even though he was born just one year before Iverson made his NBA debut, the 21-year-old looked up to Iverson as soon as he began following basketball. 

“I was an A.I. fan,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “On top of how competitive he was and that swag, he just had a great feeling for the game. It was amazing to watch him play. He was so confident. It was just like, ‘Wow.’ Every kid said, ‘I want to be able to do that like A.I.’ I was one of those kids.”

Hollis-Jefferson had the opportunity to speak with Iverson before beginning his rookie season in 2015. He was struck by Iverson’s noticeable passion for basketball years after he left the league. 

“I have nothing but the utmost respect for him,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “When I met him and we talked, it was genuine, it was real. You could tell he loved the game until the end of his time. He said, ‘I respect how hard you play,’ and that’s big coming from a guy like that.”

When Iverson takes his place with basketball's elite, he will be remembered by these players for far more than his accomplishments on the court. They will always appreciate the way Iverson shaped their NBA aspirations so close to home. 

“I’m glad they made that decision," Ellington said of the induction. "Pound for pound, the guy’s the best to do it. He did amazing things, not just for the NBA, but obviously for the city of Philadelphia.”