Like many Sumter residents, Trayvon Jefferson is a transplant. Born and raised in North Charleston, Jefferson didn't have a straight line to Sumter, but he's glad to have ended up here.
Jefferson bounced around from junior college basketball at Denmark Tech, before spending a semester at a four-year school in Illinois to Morris College, only to never play for the Sumter school as he battled ineligibility and a season erased by COVID-19. That's when he found Perseverance. Not the virtue, the team. Sumter's semi-pro basketball team helped bring Jefferson's skill into the spotlight and now he's headed down to play for Guerros Chatinos De Yaitepec Oaxaca, in one of Mexico's top professional leagues, CiprodeBaco.
"I'm not from Sumter, but Sumter is home to me. Sumter gave me an opportunity. An opportunity that my city didn't give me," Jefferson said. "I love Sumter. It means a lot to me. This is always going to be my second home. I'm going to show the same love as I show my own city."
Jefferson's basketball career was far from simple. After his high school career at Charleston Collegiate, he went to go play junior college basketball at Denmark Tech. After being kicked off the team, he went to Moravian Prep, before transferring two a four-year school in Illinois, but only stayed for a semester. Jefferson was on the hunt for a place to start over and, on the advice of his cousin, Raekwon McFadden, he decided to come to Sumter and play at Morris College.
Unfortunately, that never quite worked out. Jefferson was academically ineligible as a junior but spent the year working on his grades so he could return to the court for his senior season. Then COVID-19 hit. Morris College didn't play basketball and he was left wondering if he'd ever play the sport again. Despite all of the ups and downs, Jefferson managed to obtain his bachelor's degree at Morris.
"I got out of the concrete, I got out of the mud for real for real," Jefferson said about his struggles on and off the court. "There was nothing handed to me. I got everything from the ground up. Going through all of that, it was worth it, because I just signed my first pro contract.
"90% of the players, if they went through what I went through, they would've just given up. I didn't give up. I fought through adversity and I kept fighting."
Jefferson wasn't even thinking about picking up a basketball when a friend approached him about playing for the Perseverance Panthers, a semi-pro team in Sumter that plays in the American Basketball Association. Jefferson agreed to give it a shot. In his first game, he was productive. He realized that his dream of basketball was still alive and well in Sumter.
"I hadn't been playing for a while. I had to regroup. It wasn't easy," Jefferson said. "Before that, I wasn't in the gym, honestly. Me coming on this team and seeing that I still can go gave me my hunger. I got back in the gym, I got bigger and I worked on my game."
Playing for Team Perseverance opened some doors for Jefferson, most notably the chance to take part in some professional camps. The biggest camp was Coast2Coast, an international basketball showcase that allows players to be seen by teams across the world. He took part in that showcase twice, playing on the championship-winning team each time.
It didn't take long for teams to notice the standout from South Carolina. He started playing in March and started to get attention from various places. Initially, Jefferson planned to go back to college. He was set to play at Chicago State, but their head coach was fired and he was left searching for another opportunity. That game this fall, when he got a call from Guerros Chatinos De Yaitepec Oaxaca offering him the opportunity to come and play in Mexico. As September came to a close, he signed the contract. He'll begin his season in Mexico in November. He credits Team Perseverance, head coach Junko Allen and his agent, Brandon Lee Cataldo, for giving him the opportunity to keep his dream alive.
"I made a lot of bad decisions, and I blew a lot of opportunities. I knew when I got put on the team that this was my last straw, but I also knew that this was the best opportunity for me," Jefferson said of joining Team Perseverance. "I just knew that if I took advantage of this opportunity, I would go somewhere with this. I started out in March and we're here now in October and I'm signed. That's how fast time goes. I knew I was going to do it, I just had to get my mind right.
"This team plays a lot of good people and puts you in front of the right people. You have to make the opportunity. You have to go out there and showcase your game. The program is giving you the opportunity to do what you need to do, but you need to get it in your head that you're going to take advantage of it."
This opportunity in Mexico is going to come with a lot of change. For one, Jefferson doesn't speak Spanish. He knows it won't be easy, but Jefferson's life hasn't been simple to this point, so he's ready for the next challenge.
"I've got to take whatever opportunities come for me. This is not the last one either," Jefferson said. "Just like I took the semi-pro team and took advantage of it and went somewhere with it, I have to do the same thing when I go Mexico. I'm going to go with that same grind and same mindset and when I finish there, who knows? I may be in the G League, I may be in the Euro League."
Jefferson also knows that his opportunity in Mexico is about more than just basketball. As a professional athlete, you have to treat the game like it's a business.
"I knew that it was bigger than dribbling the basketball and putting it in the hoop. A lot of players don't know this is a business for real," Jefferson said. "You have to be focused and you have to be very business-minded. Everything is a process. You've got to plant the seed, but it isn't going to grow right away. You have to give it time. The ones that stay patient and work hard win at the end of the day."
He's also looking to give back to the community around him in Mexico. Jefferson is passionate about helping the communities that helped him along the way. In fact, he spent Monday in Sumter volunteering at the North Hope Center, talking to the next generation about the importance of persevering and working hard.
"I'm about helping. Some players go pro and tell you to find your way. I'm not that kind of dude," Jefferson said. "I want to reach out, like I'm doing right now, talking to kids, doing stuff for the community. I know God is going to bless me to go further and I'm ready for it."
Jefferson hopes people can take a simple lesson away from his story. Take advantage of any opportunity given to you. So far, that mindset has taken him to a professional basketball league in Mexico. Next? Who knows?
"Anyone that's here, I don't care how small (the opportunity) is, take it," Jefferson said. "It's like a seed, you plant that seed, you water that seed and it's going to grow. As long as you water it, it's going to grow.
"That's what I'm gonna keep doing, watering my flower."
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