UA BASKETBALL

Arizona basketball: Hard-working mother inspires Hollis-Jefferson

2013-04-07T00:00:00Z 2013-04-07T22:10:31Z Arizona basketball: Hard-working mother inspires Hollis-JeffersonBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Even at a very young age, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was sprouting an attention-grabbing personality and a fondness for fashion.

"Mr. GQ," his mother, Rylanda Hollis, said jokingly.

Hollis-Jefferson grew into a Top 25 wing in the class of 2013 who will play for the Arizona Wildcats next season, volunteers at a Boys & Girls Club and displays a warm smile wherever he goes, but all that belies a couple of steep obstacles he cleared while growing up in a single-parent home in Chester, Pa.

For one, he had a father, Ross Jefferson, who has been in and out of jail, unable to provide the kind of attention Rondae sought.

For another, Rylanda, Rondae and his older brother, Rahlir, have lived in Chester, a town of about 34,000 between Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del., that annually makes just about everybody's most dangerous city lists. In 2010, in fact, Yahoo ranked it No. 1 in violent crime and No. 9 for murder.

Those kinds of statistics don't bode well for a youth looking for the best of things in a home with one income. Rylanda Hollis knew that. She knew how easy it was for kids to be sucked into gangs, drug dealing and other distractions in the name of easy money.

So she decided to make her own. Rylanda worked two jobs throughout the years when Rondae and Rahlir were in elementary and middle school. She would get up at 6 a.m. to work as a dietary supervisor until mid-afternoon, then come home to see her boys after school - and leave again at 6 p.m. to work as a bartender until 2 a.m.

It was a tough existence that left her little time for sleep.

But at least she could sleep well.

"When they were little, I wanted to make sure I could provide for them so they wouldn't be in the streets selling drugs," Rylanda said last week, after traveling to Chicago to watch Rondae play in the McDonald's All American Game. "I tried to give them everything within reason so they wouldn't need to get it on the streets."

That helped solve one of the problems. The other one took a while to figure out.

As Rondae grew into his late elementary and middle school years, he would act out on occasion, at home or school, being too physical, talking out of line, or any number of other problems.

"The thing was, he wanted a relationship with his dad and being a child, he didn't know how to handle it," Rylanda said. "At first, I thought, 'Oh my god, he needed medicine or something,' but the reality was he wanted his dad."

Extended family helped. The parents of both Hollis and Jefferson pitched in, while Rahlir, now a senior who just finished his college career at Temple, became a father figure of sorts.

"We had a support system," Rylanda says.

Another part of it was Chester High School basketball coach Larry Yarbray, who is also the executive director of the Chester Boys & Girls Club.

"We have a real good relationship on and off the court," Hollis-Jefferson said. "I talk to him a lot. He works at the Boys & Girls Club and I volunteer. I want to give back. I help with the kids and just do stuff. We do basketball, tutoring and play games."

Only one of those games is basketball.

"We play pingpong a lot," Hollis-Jefferson says. "I'm good."

Of course, Hollis-Jefferson is also pretty good on the basketball court. Last week, he was named Pennsylvania's 4A high school player of the year, and competed in the McDonald's game, the most prestigious high school all-star game in the country.

Yarbray said he's been fortunate to have Hollis-Jefferson on his perennial powerhouse team since Hollis-Jefferson was a freshman, not only because of his considerable talent and versatility to play all five positions, but also because of his attitude.

"He's a total team player, committed to winning," Yarbray said last fall, before Hollis-Jefferson committed to UA in September. "He's very coachable. He listens and he wants to get better."

That doesn't figure to change at Arizona. The only thing that will is that the player known as Rondae Jefferson at Chester will now have Hollis-Jefferson stitched on the back of his jersey.

It's something Rahlir opted to do at Temple, too, for exactly the same reasons: All those long hours and care that Rylanda put in over the years deserved recognition, the brothers agreed.

"It was hard not see your mom all the time, coming home to sleep and then waking up and still not seeing her," Rondae said. "It was a rough time for us. But we got through it."

Rylanda said she's proud that Rondae "came a long way," realizing the sacrifices she made and deciding to make his own sacrifices, volunteering his time and trying to be a role model now for younger kids.

The problem Rylanda now has with Rondae is different: He's leaving. She has to drop him off in Tucson in June, about the same time that Rahlir may pursue an overseas basketball career.

All those years of figuring out what to do with the boys, and now they're nearly gone.

"He always said to me jokingly 'When I go to college, I'm going far away, so you won't pop in on me like you did with Rahlir at Temple,'" Rylanda said. "I didn't think he would go that far but if he's happy that's fine."

She'll figure out how to deal with it somehow.

Always has.

"It's going to be a journey," she said.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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