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From Hoops To Rod Butts

Lifelong angler Jeffries jump hooks from NBA to fishing show

Jared Jeffries enjoys his first ICAST show. (Mike Suchan photo) Jared Jeffries enjoys his first ICAST show. (Mike Suchan photo)

By: Mike Suchan, OutdoorChannel.com

ORLANDO, Fla. – At his first ICAST, Jared Jeffries stood out. That happens when you are 6-foot-11, but his height matters little in fishing, except maybe getting a bit more leverage behind a bent rod.

It’s his true love of fishing that has the former NBA player hosting Outdoor Channel’s “Modern Fishing with Jared Jeffries.” Enjoying the miles of tackle and making new connections at ICAST, Jeffries said his old connection with former Minnesota Timberwolves player Brad Miller propelled him into the business. Miller was shooting “Country Boys Outdoors” and took Jeffries on a successful alligator hunt.

“It was kind of a weird thing. The production team was like, ‘Do you want to try to do your own fishing show?” Jeffries said, agreeing to give it a shot. “We started doing it, and it went really well.”

The former Indiana Hoosiers star had wrapped up an 11-year NBA playing career and was shopping his fishing show. Bang. Serendipitously, he landed a job as a scout for the Denver Nuggets, owned by Kroenke Sports Entertainment.

“Stan Kroenke had just bought the Outdoor Channel. When they saw the show, they liked it, thought that it had potential,” Jeffries said. “And they picked it up. That’s how everything worked out great for me.”

Working in the same building as the KSE offices is a far piece from where Jeffries started fishing. He grew up in Bloomington, Ind., where state parks surrounded him. There were two ponds on his family’s 75 acres, two more up in the woods and Salt Creek just across the road.

“I fished as much as I could,” he said, “Probably from the time I was 6 years old, I would go to the ponds, and then the river starting around 8, 9 years old. Me and my cousins, me and my friends, that’s what we did.”

His father, Tom, would take Jeffries out on a 15-foot boat with a 50-hp Evinrude before upgrading to a 17-foot bass boat.

“We caught a lot of bluegill, crappie, and we just kept progressing up with the boat,” he said.

In being named 2000 Indiana Mr. Basketball, Jeffries took Bloomington High School North to the state finals. He caught the eye of Indiana University Coach Bobby Knight, who kept Jeffries close to home. Jeffries said his father fished with Knight, an avid angler, but he never got the chance as Knight was dismissed two weeks into Jeffries freshman season.

“Mike Davis came in, and he was actually my lead recruiter, so I felt comfortable with him,” Jeffries said. “I wasn’t going anywhere. My goal was going to the NBA. Why transfer?”

Fueling Indiana’s Cinderella run in the 2002 NCAA Tournament helped Jeffries enter the NBA Draft early. He had 24 points and 15 rebounds in IU’s 74-73 upset of top-seeded Duke in the East Regional semifinal. The run ended with a loss to Maryland in the title game, but Jeffries earned accolades, including the 2002 Silver Basketball from the Chicago Tribune as Big Ten MVP.

“I had a really good sophomore year and declared for the draft,” said Jeffries, who was in Bradenton, Fla., training for the draft when he asked the simple question, “What’s biting?” It led to his first saltwater experience and a deeper passion.

“We jumped like eight tarpon and caught six. I was hooked. I had never seen anything like that in my life,” Jeffries said, noting his biggest silver king was 140 pounds. “I hadn’t caught fish that weighed that much in my whole life. Every fish combined to that point hadn’t weighed that much.”

Drafted by the Washington Wizards at the 11th overall pick, Jeffries played there through 2006, then had his first stint with the New York Knicks. After a season with the Houston Rockets, he returned to the Knicks then retired in 2013 after a year with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Jeffries, who played center and forward, was known for tenacious defense. He averaged 4.8 points and 4.1 rebounds over his career. Through those 11 NBA seasons, he spent a lot of off time fishing.

“Every summer, I would plan, I would talk to people, where should I go?” he said. “I got hooked on yellowfin tuna fishing, then marlin fishing. I like jigging and popping just because of the excitement of it, and seeing these fish come up and the visual aspect of the fishing.”

His largest fish to date is a 750-pound black marlin he hooked off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. His travels have led him to locales like Bermuda, Bahamas, Panama, Venice, La., Cape Cod, Mass., and the South Pacific, among others.

“The South Pacific is amazing,” he said. “If it didn’t take so long to get over there, I’d be there a lot more. It’s definitely somewhere I enjoy going to. It’s fun. It’s a different kind of fishing -- catching GTs (giant trevally), dogtooth tuna, jobfish, red bass.

“I love fishing in Panama. I love sword fishing down in the keys. My house, right here in Tampa, and Sarasota, I love fishing this area, it’s so diverse. Just for fun fishing, I love fishing my area for snapper.

“So I fish a little bit of everywhere. I try to get a feel of different areas. I don’t want to just fish the same area and get stagnant.”

He’s splitting time between Denver and his responsibilities with the Nuggets and his Tampa home, where a 39-foot Yellowfin awaits his beckon call.

“I go out as much as I can. When I’m not filming, if the weather is good, I’ll go out every day,” he said.

While still knowing there’s more to learn, Jeffries said there are a few comparisons that can be applied between the teamwork of basketball and a crew chasing big fish.

“The type of fishing I do, the jigging, popping style, you can get better at it,” he said.

“You’ve got to know how to tie your leaders, know how to work your stickbait, your poppers, how to jig, how to read the water. There’s a competitive nature involved in that kind of fishing. Someone better comes on the boat and you can learn from them.”

He’s already tested some of his NBA contacts, like L.A. Lakers guard Jeremy Lin, who played alongside him in New York. Jeffries said he’ll also host Nuggets guard Nate Robinson and Nuggets Coach Brian Shaw.

“There’s a lot of guys who want to come on the show,” Jeffries said. “It’s a good concept. It’s a lot of fun and we enjoy it. If you take anybody out fishing and you catch fish, it’s very, very hard not to like it and enjoy it.”

Like in his NBA career, Jeffries says he doesn’t plan to stress out catching fish consistently to produce TV shows. That’s not him. His time fishing has been about getting away, relaxing and camaraderie, so why change.

“I love doing the show,” he said. “It’s just like anything else. I love fishing, so why not film it. I just laugh, joke around. The in-house production team doesn’t want to see me do bad, so it’s a good thing for me to be able to just relax and be myself.

“I always joke around. I never put pressure on myself to be successful. I always just had fun and enjoyed my life. My life has always worked out randomly.”

"Modern Fishing with Jared Jeffries" show page

Click here for videos, stories and photos from ICAST 2014.

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