Proud to play at American
For the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger
WASHINGTON — Bender Arena was buzzing here last March, with a berth in the NCAA tournament on the line.
The American University Eagles hosted Holy Cross in the Patriot League tournament championship game, and ESPN was on hand to televise the contest to a national audience.
“I watched it on television,” said Jernavis Draughn, a former Potomac Senior High School standout. “I made sure I watched. It was exciting.”
Draughn was more than a casual observer that day, as Holy Cross beat the regular-season champion Eagles, 58-54, in front of 4,521 fans. The Triangle resident played for American as a freshman during the previous season, in 2000-01.
But in a mutual decision with his family and the AU coaching staff, Draughn spent last season at Hagerstown (Md.) Community College and is now back this year with the Eagles.
“I think I matured on the court and off the court. I think my game got a lot better,” Draughn said after American’s 73-49 win here Friday over Radford University. “I am trying to stay focused and trying to win the Patriot League.”
The year away from the upper Northwest campus appears to have paid off. He tied his career high in points (19) and rebounds (12) in a game at North Carolina-Greensboro on Nov. 25.
Draughn, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound junior forward, is averaging 10 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game for the Eagles (3-3). On Monday, Draughn had eight points, four rebounds and three steals in American’s 61-58 win over Howard.
He started four of the first five games for AU head coach Jeff Jones, the former University of Virginia mentor in his third season here. Draughn averaged just 6.9 points per game and made six starts for American as a freshman.
“We were very happy to have him back,” AU assistant coach Kiernan Donohue said of Draughn. “We had to re-recruit him. Very rarely do guys leave on good terms. He left on good terms. He needed to get his feet back under him” on and off the floor at Hagerstown.
Donohue points out that many top players attend a year of prep school after their high school career. In effect, he said, Draughn now has had a year of prep school in between seasons at the Division I level.
“He is a real active player,” said Radford junior forward Aaron Gill, who guarded Draughn most of the first half. “Sometimes I lost contact with him and he got offensive rebounds. He’s a good, solid player.”
Draughn averaged 21 points and 8.6 rebounds as a senior at Potomac High, and led his team to the Cardinal District championship and a berth in the Group AAA state semifinals.
He was second-team all-state, Cardinal District player of the year and the Potomac News player of the year as a senior.
Draughn played small forward at Hagerstown, and said he was able to work more on his perimeter shooting while in western Maryland.
He is now part of an AU team that features players from Slovenia, Puerto Rico, Canada, Lithuania and Camerroon, as well as Maine, Ohio, California, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
“This is my first time playing with guys from overseas. They are good players,” said Draughn, who is majoring in communications.
While most players live together Draughn has a regular student, from Hungary, as a roommate since no teammates were available upon his return to AU.
That doesn’t seem to bother him.
“I like the diversity of the school,” Draughn said.
But this time the Potomac High product doesn’t want to miss any possible excitement as AU aims for the Patriot League’s automatic NCAA berth.
“It was kind of tough (to watch) last year, but I feel we have a good chance this year,” he said.