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Crown Point grad Nick Jeffirs

Crown Point grad Nick Jeffirs, right, has started all 19 games for St. Joseph's this season and is shooting 53 percent from the field to go with 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.

He can’t remember who delivered the message, but Nick Jeffirs clearly recalls hearing a highly impactful thought the summer between high school and college.

It’s a sentiment that still rings in his head today.

“What gets you into college isn’t what is going to make you excel in college,” Jeffirs said.

A 6-foot-7 lifelong post player who did most of his vertical growing by the end of his freshman year at Crown Point, Jeffirs has been mentally growing and improving ever since.

His wingspan hasn’t expanded, but his game is no longer relegated to the low block.

How so? By his estimate, Jeffirs’ previous lifetime high for 3-point attempts in a season was one.

This season the St. Joseph’s College sophomore is 13 for 35 from beyond the arc (36 percent) after a grand total of zero trey attempts last season.

“That’s kind of the beauty of college basketball,” Jeffirs said. “You’re in college, you’re an adult, you’ve been around the game and your IQ is still growing.”

Despite feeling like he’d never see the floor during the 2015-16 preseason, Jeffirs emerged from among three low-block players last season and worked into the starting lineup as a freshman, starting 23 of 28 games and tallying 9.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. However, he felt like he was still relying on his high school skill set.

He made it a goal to be able to switch his style of play midgame if he had to, depending on who was guarding him and what they offered defensively. The Pumas press all game and run a lot, so although Jeffirs is the traditional “center” on the lineup card, he can easily slide to the corner or the elbow in transition depending on which player rebounds to start a fast break.

“It still took (a) year in the system to know what to work on,” Jeffirs said. “You can have an idea, but when you get to college you don’t know what’s going to work. It’s an adjustment mentally and physically.”

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This season Jeffirs has started all 19 games and tried to go from an undersized post to a quicker one. He doubled down on conditioning and worked on precision footwork for when he does have to bang bodies in the lane.

He has scored in double figures seven times, topping out at 18 twice, and he is averaging 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 53 percent from the field, best among regular rotation players.

What’s most important to Jeffirs is the team, devoid of seniors, has tied its 2015-16 win total with nine contests remaining this season, and a berth in the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament, where only the league’s top six are invited, is a realistic possibility.

“I’m not very caught up in (stats) at all,” Jeffirs said. “I pay more attention to the stats for the guy I’m guarding, whether he’s getting rebounds. I do what they need me to do, and the stats will fall where they fall.”

Crusaders on the right track: The long slog of road events for a Midwestern track program continues this weekend for Valparaiso with the Crusaders embarking on the third of 15 consecutive road events to start the indoor and eventual outdoor seasons.

This Saturday, both the men’s and women’s teams will be at Grand Valley State for the Lints Alumni Meet.

Valparaiso High grad Andrew Guzek won both the weight throw and shot put last weekend at the Fort Wayne Duals, where the Crusaders went 3-0. He was second in the weight throw the weekend prior.

Ben Sekuloski (Lowell) was runner-up in the 400 meters at the Bob Eubanks Open on Jan. 13 when the Crusaders took third out of 12 teams.

Kids Day at PNW: Purdue Northwest’s doubleheader with Roosevelt University will include the programs’ annual Kids Day celebration at the PNW Hammond Campus Fitness and Recreation Center.

The women’s team, ranked No. 14 in the NAIA Division II poll, will play the Lakers beginning at 1 p.m. with the men’s game to follow.

Kids Day includes free admission to all children 17 and under, carnival games, face painting and coloring areas. Free T-shirts and mini-basketballs go to the first 100 fans, and poster signings following both games.

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