Third Time’s the Charm for NBA G League Swingman DaQuan Jeffries
Although DaQuan Jeffries played on a select team that practiced and scrimmaged against the USA Basketball Men’s National Team as it tuned up for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, he is now on a USA team for the first time.
Jeffries is a member of the USA Basketball Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team that finishes the third and final window of first-round qualifying this weekend. The U.S. (3-1) plays at Puerto Rico (2-2) on Friday then travels to Cuba (0-4) on the Fourth of July to complete Group D play.
The top three teams in each group advance, so the U.S. has already secured a spot in the second round of qualifying for the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
This is an opportunity that Jeffries covets, even though it was delayed. The 6-foot-5 swingman and defensive specialist said he would have played in the first two windows of competition had it not been for back and foot injuries.
“Coming here really means a lot to me,” Jeffries said. “I really want to be out here and be a part of something special.”
The injuries limited Jeffries to 16 games in 2021-22 with the College Park Skyhawks of the NBA G League. He averaged 14.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.0 steals in 25.0 minutes. But there was a bright spot as he signed a 10-day contract midseason with the Memphis Grizzlies and played in three games for a total of almost nine minutes.
The 24-year-old still hopes to accomplish his NBA dream.
Since being undrafted in 2019 coming out of the University of Tulsa, Jeffries has played in 47 games in four NBA stints over three seasons, two with Sacramento, and one each with the Grizzlies and Houston. He has averaged 3.8 points, 1.9 rebounds, 0.6 assists and 0.4 steals in 13.7 minutes.
“Very tough. It takes a lot of commitment,” Jeffries said. “Work in a gym, watch film. Just watching basketball and watching the (NBA) Finals and see how they’re playing. It’s very difficult. It’s not easy at all.”
A year ago Wednesday, Jeffries posted on Twitter, “M Y T U R N.” It showed him, in a collage of four photos, working out in pursuit of an NBA opportunity.
“Just trying to get to the league,” Jeffries said of his motivation for the tweet. “I feel like it’s my turn to showcase what I can do and that I belong in the NBA. Nothing against the G League, but I feel like I can play at that level.”
Playing on the World Cup Qualifying Team, Jeffries is surrounded by players who have gone through similar experiences. Youth is his advantage. At 24, he is the youngest on the roster by at least two years.
With only a few days of practice to come together before facing Puerto Rico and Cuba, Jeffries is finding his role with his calling card: defense.
“I’m one of those defensive guys that we really need throughout these qualifying games,” Jeffries said. “I feel like I’m fitting in pretty well. Still learning, but I’m getting there. (Defense has) been what I’ve done my whole career, so I’m looking to do that during these qualifying games. Be one of those guys to stop one of the best players on any team we play.”
Defense takes on extra importance in the physical world of international ball, even with scores reaching the 90s. Jeffries said he has watched film of the U.S. team’s previous World Cup Qualifier wins over Puerto Rico (93-76 on Feb. 24) and Cuba (95-90 on Nov. 28, 2021) to get ready.
“Really the main difference between overseas basketball or these qualifying sessions is the physicality,” Jeffries said of teams that often have older players who have been together for years. “Guys are not as quick, and they just use that against us. I think that's the main thing we are going to see throughout these two qualifying games.”
Even with free agency about to begin, Jeffries doesn’t see these games with USA Basketball as a chance for exposure to NBA scouts and team officials, just a chance to play for his country.
“I’m not here for that, really, to worry about what’s to come next season,” Jeffries said. “I’m here to get better and go out and win these qualifying games.”
The final qualifying game will bring some added significance. International competition always seems to bring about a little touch of politics, and Monday’s game against Cuba in Havana falling on the Fourth of July certainly has that tinge.
“Definitely going to be a little more motivation,” Jeffries said. “We’re going out there and playing for our country. We’re not going to play for the name on the back of the jersey. So this is definitely gonna be a little more motivation for us.”
Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California.