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Basketball Guide 2014: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson takes up more serious role this year

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Keenan Turner

Arizona foward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (23) shoots during Arizona’s 78-55 win against Mount St. Mary’s in McKale Center on Friday. Hollis-Jefferson may be Arizona’s funny man, but he has seriously improved this offseason.

On Tuesday at the Arizona men’s basketball weekly press conference, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley entered, sat down and Hollis-Jefferson touched the mic, saying, “Is this thing on?”

As media members laughed, Hollis-Jefferson spoke to a young boy who was sitting in on the conference, saying, “What’s up, little buddy? What’s your name?”

The boy replied in a shy tone. Hollis-Jefferson answered back, “Nice to meet you. I’m Rondae. This is Brandon.”

Media members laughed again as the press conference began.

For those who regularly cover the team, this was just Hollis-Jefferson being Hollis-Jefferson. For those who don’t cover the team, it’s further proof that Hollis-Jefferson is the team’s funny man.

Merriam-Webster has the definition of funny man as, “A man who is funny, especially a professional comedian.” Listed synonyms include comic, humorist, jester and jokester.

It’s missing a synonym: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

On the UA campus, simply saying the word “Rondae” is enough to incite playful laughter, joyfulness and an all-around positive demeanor.

Of course, the origin of that positivity comes from the 6-foot-7 sophomore forward, a player who has captured the hearts of Tucson in his short time as a Wildcat. Hollis-Jefferson is often referred to as just “Rondae” and is the unquestioned funny man of the No. 2 ranked Wildcats squad.

Hollis-Jefferson played in all 38 games last season, averaging 9.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game as the team’s primary sixth-man role, a role that he thrived in. This season, he plays a more prominent role as a starter.

As his role has increased, Hollis-Jefferson has grown to accept his role as a leader, all the while keeping the energy and enthusiasm that has endeared him to teammates and fans.

“It’s a tough role, you know,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “I’m trying to be myself every day. You know, just happy-go-Rondae, play hard and give that energy the team has. It’s a tough process, but if you take it day by day and honor the process, you go hard. Once that day is over, you go about the rest of your day. While you’re in there with those guys, your teammates, your brothers, you just got to lock in.”

The team looks toward him for energy and production from the small forward position, a position that was left vacated by the departure of last year’s starter Aaron Gordon to the NBA. Gordon had per-game averages of 12.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 block during his lone collegiate season.

Hollis-Jefferson figures to take over the starting small forward spot and has worked hard this season to earn that spot over freshman stud Stanley Johnson. After struggling to hit perimeter shots last year, making just two 3-pointers over 38 games played, Hollis-Jefferson hit the gym and worked to improve his shot.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller said Hollis-Jefferson shot thousands of shots this summer in order to make defenses respect him on the perimeter. Having an improved shot should significantly help the spacing of the Arizona offense, something the team struggled with at times last year.

As part of a starting frontcourt that also includes Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, Hollis-Jefferson said opponents will have issues containing them all.

“For us, it’s a great thing to have at multiple positions,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “We’ve got guys who can guard multiple players. It’s one of the greatest feelings. … They have your back. It’s a great feeling to have and a scary sight for others.”

With the regular season  underway, keep an eye on Hollis-Jefferson this season, because the funny man has seriously improved.

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Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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