Ever since she was a freshman it was apparent that Emani Jefferson would be an athlete to remember.
The 5-foot-5 point guard not only started on the varsity team right away, but was also the team’s second leading scorer amongst a group that included two area stars in Alexis Francavilla and Aryana Hough.
While the Bobcats were a local powerhouse with all three players, the real test for Jefferson began when her two teammates graduated after her sophomore year.
“The years that she played with Aryana and Alexis, she was more about distributing, helping them out and getting them their points,” said former North Port girls basketball coach Dale Huffman.
“As soon as those two left, she was like, ‘OK, I’m the GOAT (Greatest of All Time), so let’s do this.’ But she never really played that way. She could have scored 40 points every game if she wanted to. But she was more of a team player than that. She wanted to get her teammates involved.”
While it was easy for Jefferson to take over on the court with her talent, becoming the team’s de-facto leader took some getting used to.
“I added a left hand,” Jefferson said of her improvement in high school. “I didn’t have one at all before that. I started shooting more, too.
“I also learned leadership and how to motivate others. How to help my teammates when they needed it.”
As a junior, she averaged nearly 29 points per game while also leading the team with 13 rebounds and 7.9 steals per game — leading the team to an 18-10 record and a finish in the regional quarterfinals.
Putting up numbers like that, it was easy for her teammate to follow her lead.
“Her and her friends would come by and eat lunch in my classroom and they’d be filming TikTok videos and stuff,” Huffman said. “Around her friends she’s pretty open and a leader.
“The freshmen and sophomores kinda followed her around like little puppy dogs. She was the leader and everyone knew it. It was, ‘Whatever Emani does, we do.’”
After getting noticed in a travel basketball showcase by Wright State assistant coach Abby Jump, Jefferson, older sister Nikki and Huffman traveled up for an official visit to Dayton, Ohio.
Timid at first, Huffman said she was playing in an exhibition game at about 50 percent speed.
“I’m like, ‘Emani, what are you doing?’ And she’s like, ‘Well, I don’t want to make anyone mad,’” Huffman recalled. “So I said, ‘No one is going to be mad. Show them what you can do.’
“So she went down the floor and went up for a rebound over top of one of their 6-foot-3 girls and grabbed it. When she did that, the head coach who was at the other end of the bleachers, looked at me and just shook her head like, ‘Wow.’ And I just smiled at her like, ‘You haven’t seen nothing yet.”
Even after securing a scholarship with Wright State — becoming the first D-I signee in program history — Jefferson didn’t let up. She battled through a sprained knee and a suspension to help win the Bobcats their first district championship since 2013.
If that weren’t enough, she wasn’t done when basketball season ended. In her first track meet of the season, she broke the school record in the long jump with a leap of 18-feet, 10.5-inches — a mark she said was tops in the state when the season was canceled.
For most athletes, it would have been an occasion worthy of celebration, but Jefferson wasn’t surprised.
“I just went in and jumped and they told me I broke the record,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ It didn’t really mean that much to me. But if the season would have went on, I could have won states. So that was hard.”
Soon, she’ll get the chance to see how her talent translates to the next level.
“I’d pay money to watch Emani play basketball,” Huffman said. “She’s probably the best player the school has ever had.
“I’ve coached for 39 years now and I’ve coached boys and girls. I’ve never had an athlete like this kid. Never. Period. Exclamation point. Probably never will again, either.”