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Former Arizona Wildcats standouts Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson never played together in Tucson, and they started this season playing on different NBA teams once again.
Jefferson was expected to play for Dallas while Frye began the year as a teammate of Aaron Gordon at Orlando.
They celebrated as Cleveland teammates the Cavaliers’ return to the NBA Finals on Friday night. Former Arizona player Bret Brielmaier is a Cleveland assistant coach. It is the first trip to the Finals for Frye, who has waited 11 seasons for this moment. Jefferson last experienced the Finals in 2003 with the New Jersey Nets.
Jefferson’s 13-year stretch of a Finals drought after playing in one matches the longest gap according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“God has always put me where I’m supposed to be. I’m a firm believer in that,” Jefferson was quoted as saying by the Beacon Journal. “Yeah, I was supposed to be in Dallas. If DeAndre Jordan doesn’t leave, then I’m in Dallas 100 percent. And who knows? Who knows what goes on? But this is where I was supposed to be.”
Jefferson agreed to return to the Mavericks after Jordan verbally committed to join them, but neither of them signed deals last summer. When Jordan backed out of his agreement to return to the Los Angeles Clippers, Jefferson went to Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and asked to be let out of his deal. Cuban gave him his blessing and sent him on his way to Cleveland.
Jefferson was a rookie when the Nets were swept by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2002 NBA Finals. He returned again the next season when the Nets lost to the San Antonio Spurs in six games.
Jefferson and Frye have emerged as key reserves for the Cavaliers. Jefferson is shooting 46 percent from 3-point range while Frye is shooting a team-best 58 percent from that far this postseason.
Frye is in the Finals after his career was in jeopardy in 2012-13, missing the entire season with an enlarged heart while with Phoenix. He was cleared the following season by doctors and has played strong ever since.
“For me, I’m just out there playing, trying to play the right way,” Frye told the Beacon Journal.
Frye is under contract for two more years. Jefferson, on a one-year deal, acknowledges he isn’t sure how much longer his career will last. He turns 36 next month. Wouldn’t that be something? NBA Finals appearances as bookends to his career?
“This is the most talented team I’ve ever been on, and just really built for what you need,” Jefferson said. “I’m the one guy that probably didn’t have the biggest smile on my face. I’ve been here before. I’m definitely having fun, I’m relaxed. But you want to see a smile on my face and tears in my eyes? Talk to me after four more wins.”
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ARIZONA WILDCATS LEFT IN THE NBA PLAYOFFS
1983-88: Steve Kerr (Warriors coach)
1984-87: Bruce Fraser (Warriors assistant)
1998-01: Richard Jefferson (Cavaliers forward)
1999-03: Luke Walton (Warriors assistant)
2001-05: Channing Frye (Cavaliers forward)
2002-04: Andre Iguodala (Warriors forward)
2004-08: Bret Brielmaier (Cavaliers assistant)
— Luke Walton, Channing Frye and Andre Iguodala played together in the 2002-03 season, the one in which the Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight and lost to Kansas in Anaheim.
— They combined to average 29.8 points, 18.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists for the Wildcats that season.
— Frye, a center at Arizona, did not attempt a three-pointer that season. He was 6-of-23 from beyond the arc in his career.
“I’m really excited to be part of such a great group.”
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.