ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Rondae Hollis-Jefferson who’s starting training camp isn’t quite the same one who ended last season with the Nets, changed during an eye-opening trip to Africa over the summer.
The 22-year-old forward has an uncle of Senegalese descent, but it hardly prepared him for what saw. Or how it both moved and matured him.
“Oh, it was dope, man. It was good. To be able to go out there and experience that, not only for myself but for my family to give them the insight on what’s over there,’’ Hollis-Jefferson told The Post.
“[I learned] a lot of things, especially just being in the community, seeing how they live and their environment, it kind of put things in a different perspective. You weigh in on how you grew up; you kind of start thinking about a lot of things, which is great for the mind. It sets you back and resets your clock.”
Hollis-Jefferson stopped in Mek’ele, Ethiopia, to help run a youth basketball program with UNICEF. After that, he headed to Johannesburg, South Africa, to play for Team World in the NBA Africa game Aug. 5.
All the while, Hollis-Jefferson talked with campers, mingled with locals, and watched not just the striking poverty but how many refused to let it daunt their spirits or dampen their moods. It frankly left him humbled.
“It was a great thing to be in the community and see a lot of the things we complain about growing up — first-world problems — it made me feel a little embarrassed. I saw kids with no shoes walking miles. I saw pregnant women have to walk 13 miles to the nearest clinic,’’ Hollis-Jefferson said Monday, expanding in detail Wednesday at the U.S. Naval Academy where the Nets are holding part of their training camp.
“Something that stuck out to me was how much poverty was over there, and they still manage to have a huge smile on their face, just being around each other. Just walking in the street you’d see them dancing and laughing. … I’m just like ‘Wow, a lot of us couldn’t grow up like that.’ It was just amazing, a humbling experience to see that. It makes you look at the things that we go through a lot differently.”
It’s an experience coach Kenny Atkinson is glad Hollis-Jefferson had.
“We encouraged him to go. He had a fantastic time. He was sending me 10 pictures a day. He was around Dikembe [Mutombo], who was there,’’ Atkinson said. “I just think it was a great experience. I’m so glad he did that.”
Hollis-Jefferson has come back with a fight on his hands for his starting job. The Nets moved him from the wing to power forward last year but added DeMarre Carroll, who can play both positions. Now they say the 6-foot-7, 214-pounder could actually get minutes at — wait for it — center.
“Rondae’s real strength is defensively, getting rebounds, steals, being able to guard big guys, small guys, his versatility defensively. We needed help on defense. That was the thought on putting him at the four,” Atkinson said. “The proof’s in the pudding. We got better defensively, it was better for his game. … Now we’re more balanced. It’ll give us more versatility throwing DeMarre at the four sometimes and Rondae can go to the five.
“That’s where this league is going. That’s very possible. You could see that. He’s got a 7-3 wingspan. That’s damn near Draymond Green-type length. I know everybody looks at him [as 6-7]. I don’t think we should be looking at him that way,” Atkinson said, changing from a vertical motion to a horizontal one. “What is your length like? His length translates into rebounds and steals.”
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