ANAHEIM, Calif. — Rondae Hollis-Jefferson came to Arizona for a simple reason.
It’s not one you’d guess.
He didn’t choose the Wildcats because of the tradition and success of the program.
It wasn’t because of Sean Miller, or because there was immediate playing time available.
He came because of UA football player Will Parks — or at least that’s how Parks tells it.
“During his unofficial visit, one of the assistant basketball coaches introduced us, and we spent the entire weekend together, and by the end he was like, ‘Man, I’m coming down here just because you’re here,’ ” Parks relayed. “I told him if he came to Arizona, he’d have another brother here waiting for him, and we could make a name for ourselves together.”
Added Hollis-Jefferson: “That’s my brother forever. He’s a real guy. He’s very outgoing. He’s happy. He brings joy to my life, and that’s what I need — people that bring positive energy.”
So how did this bro-mance come about? It goes back to, coincidentally, the City of Brotherly Love.
Hollis-Jefferson, who has emerged as a key player for the Wildcats in their march to the Sweet 16, is from Chester, Pa., located on the Delaware River, about 20 miles outside of Philadelphia.
Parks, a sophomore, who has played in all 26 games of his Arizona career, grew up about 25 miles away in the Philadelphia city limits. The two knew of each other through a few mutual friends but didn’t actually meet until Hollis-Jefferson’s unofficial visit.
“We just connected right away,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “After hanging out with him a few times and talking to him, I felt like I had known him my whole life.”
The two stayed in touch after Hollis-Jefferson returned to Pennsylvania. They talked on the phone a couple of times a week and exchanged text messages nearly every day.
When Hollis-Jefferson returned to Tucson in the summer, the two began hanging out daily. In the beginning of the school year, Parks would go pick up Hollis-Jefferson after football practice; once basketball started, the duo would meet up every night after their respective practices.
“If we’re both in town, we see each other every single day,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “It’s good to get away with certain guys. Seeing the same people every day can get tiring, but with him it’s just constant energy. It’s a pleasure to hang out with him.”
Parks lives in an off-campus house with friends, and Hollis-Jefferson — like all freshman athletes — lives in a dorm. A couple of months into the school year, Parks gave an extra key to Hollis-Jefferson and told him he was always welcome to visit.
The 6-foot-7-inch forward, who averages 8.9 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per contest for the Wildcats, took him up on it. He often sleeps at Parks’ house and spends time there between classes.
When Hollis-Jefferson returned from San Diego after Sunday night’s win over Gonzaga, Parks was one of the first people he saw. The football player gave the rangy swingman a lift to class Monday morning and picked him up after.
“If people see him, it’s always, ‘Where’s Will?’ ” Parks said. “If they see me, it’s, ‘Where’s Rondae?’ I like that, too.”
Because of the friendship, Parks has become a serious UA basketball fan. He watched Sunday’s win with the rest of the UA football squad after a team meeting.
He forgot to warn his teammates he sometimes has trouble containing his emotions watching his buddy.
“They were all looking at me like I was crazy,” Parks said laughing. “I was yelling, standing up. I get so nervous when he’s in there.”
Once Hollis-Jefferson and the Wildcats were out of danger against the Bulldogs, Parks started having some fun.
The safety started working on a celebration dance that was inspired by Hollis-Jefferson’s prefree-throw shimmy.
He calls it the “Philly Football Shimmy.”
“I haven’t shown it to him yet,” Parks said. “I’m still perfecting it. But he’s going to love it.”
When Parks breaks it out in a game, Hollis-Jefferson will surely be watching. This isn’t a one-way street.
Hollis-Jefferson said he gets nervous during football games, too, watching Parks. When the safety was named the Defensive MVP of the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in December and returned an interception for a touchdown, Hollis-Jefferson started jumping up and down in the middle of a Buffalo Wild Wings.
“Right after I talked to my mom and dad, Rondae was the first person I talked to after that game,” Parks said. “He was yelling, just going crazy, telling me how big of a play that was. He was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m here, and you’re here, and things are going like this.’
“We just need to keep working at our games because I think this thing is just getting started.”