Located on the Mississippi side of the state line border it shares with Tennessee, the city of Olive Branch is technically considered part of the Memphis Metropolitan Statistical Area for all census purposes. Yet the city and state have mostly been an invisible dot on the national prep hoops scene.
That hasn’t stopped local hoopers from striving to place their local southern towns on the national stage, though. This past season, the Magnolia State was home to one of the top 25 recruits in the Class of 2019. And DJ Jeffries is well aware of the perception and skepticism that comes with hailing from where he does.
“When they think about Mississippi, they probably think of farms, cotton fields and stuff like that,” Jeffries says. “Mississippi is not like that. There’s plenty of towns down here that like football and basketball. We don’t get to be seen by a lot of people. Mississippi, and even in Memphis, people don’t get the recognition that they deserve. I feel like there are a lot of towns that are slept on around here. They just question if I’m really good enough—if I’m really one-and-done. Stuff like that. I use it as motivation. I keep it in the back of my head. On days that I don’t feel like going, I just use that as motivation.”
Looking for the very best competition he could go up against in middle school, Jeffries enrolled at a school in Memphis (less than 30 minutes away depending on which part you’re traveling to) so that he could play with and against the city kids. And it turned out that this shy suburban hooper could hold his own really well—to the point where family members of opposing players started looking into his life, specifically his family car’s license plate.
“When I was in middle school, originally I stayed out [in Mississippi]. I didn’t stay in Memphis, so I’d be going to middle school and I was hooping from Memphis because out here you couldn’t play basketball in sixth grade,” Jeffries recalls. “They would follow me home and take pictures of my license plate to show the board of education that I don’t really stay in Tennessee and they would do a story about that. [For] my high school career, I just said that I was going to beat the trouble and just come out here where I stay.
“We used to beat teams in Tennessee all the time. The fans would get mad. Some would follow us—if they felt we were going to beat them, they’d follow us and take a picture of the license plate and send it to the board.”
Although there was once a time when he was basically told he had no business hooping in Memphis, local college hoop fans now eagerly (and ironically) await his return to the Grind City this upcoming season. Joining top-5 recruit James Wiseman and former NBA All-Star/current University of Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway, the Tigers will have some lofty expectations come this fall.
“Me and James, we play well together. James can do so many things on the court. He can stretch out [and] dribble the ball. I can shoot [and] I’m pretty athletic—he’s pretty athletic. Me and James work well together so it won’t be a problem,” says the 2019 Gatorade Mississippi Player of the Year. “They can expect a lot of dunks. A lot of wins—just going out there and giving them my all and doing something special for the city. Hopefully, a national championship—that’d be nice.”
The 6-8 wing led Olive Branch High to a 26-8 record and a trip to the MHSAA 5A state championship game for a second consecutive year, falling short this time after taking home the trophy as a junior. He averaged 23.3 points, 12.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.6 blocks per game as a senior.
In the end, he credits his achievements to having a supportive tight-knit family that has been down for the ride since the beginning.
“Family means a lot to me. They’ve been motivating me and pushing me to keep doing better,” Jeffries says. “Ever since I started playing, they’ve always been there. They go five cars deep just to go to one game—no matter where, they were always there.”