From JuCo to Division I: Four Newcomers Have Valuable Roles to FillPosted by David Harten on October 18th, 2013
During their run to the Final Four last season, Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall relied heavily on junior college products. Players like leading rebounder Carl Hall, starting point guard Malcolm Armstead and leading scorer Cleanthony Early all spent time in junior college during their playing careers before playing vital roles for the Shockers. They came from places normally reserved for those with some sort of problems — exposure, physical make-up, grades or off-the-court issues — and banded together to make a run that became one of the best stories of the 2013 Big Dance.
Every year, the nation’s top junior college talent heads to new, big-time programs and, at least in the case of most of the the upper-tier players, they’ll be asked to contribute right away. So who are the JuCo targets that will be asked to do the most this season? The options are plenty, and so are their talents. The first that comes to mind has to be Louisville point guard Chris Jones. The national junior college player of the year last season helped Northwest Florida State College to back-to-back JuCo national title game appearances. He’ll be asked to step into the role left open by the graduation of Peyton Siva. Jones’ is a better scorer than Siva (21.8 points per game), on par with him as a distributor (4.2 assists per game vs. Siva’s 5.7) and is a better rebounder (5.1 boards per game vs. Siva’s 2.4). If Louisville wants to reach its third straight Final Four appearance and win a second consecutive national title, Jones will be relied on heavily to help get the Cardinals there.
Speaking of last year’s Final Four teams, it only makes sense that Wichita State pluck one of the better junior college forwards to replace Hall’s production. Enter Darius Carter of Vincennes (IN) University. Hall finished his two-year career with the Shockers, averaging 10.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Carter put up better numbers in junior college last season, banking 15.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game with the Trailblazers, although obviously against lesser competition than he’ll being seeing at the Division I level. The 6’7″, 230-pound Carter has the measurables to replace the 6’8″, 238-pound Hall at power forward without missing many steps. And on a team that thrives on contributions from wherever they can get them, Carter seems like he’ll pick right up where the previous regime left off. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s the cousin of LeBron James’ right-hand man, Maverick Carter.
Another program will also have to replace a big man immediately, with Jamie Dixon in dire need of a tall presence in the middle to take the spot left by 7-footer Steven Adams, who left school after one season of 7.1 points and 6.3 rebounds. Joseph Uchebo has that covered. At 6’11”, 260 pounds, size is the part that Dixon doesn’t have to worry about teaching. A former North Carolina State commitment before academic issues forced him to take the JuCo route, Uchebo averaged a hefty double-double of 12.3 points and 12.3 rebounds for Chipola (FL) Junior College in 2011-12. He spent most of last season rehabilitating a knee injury, earning a medical redshirt, but should be a full-go for the start of the 2013-14 season. He won’t be asked to be the focal point of the game plan, but Uchebo will fill a massive hole in the Panthers’ middle.
One of the more intriguing players make the jump from junior college to Division I is Jelan Kendrick, mainly because he’s already been there, twice. The Atlanta native spent last season at Indian Hills (IA) Community College after tenuous stops at Memphis and Ole Miss. In one season in JuCo, the 6’8″ Kendrick did it all, averaging 12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game while shooting 52 percent from the field in 22 games. Those numbers look a lot like Mike Moser’s on his better nights with the Runnin’ Rebels. Despite an injury-riddled season in 2012-13, Moser clocked nine points, seven rebounds, 1.6 assists and shot 41.6 percent from the field in two years in Las Vegas. Kendrick’s got that kind of game, but his biggest obstacle will be his character. He had to go the junior college route because he wasn’t able to fit in with two big-time programs, allegedly due to issues with anger. He, along with the rest of this group, will all be asked to assimilate quickly to the roles they are expected to fill. And it could turn out to be the difference between a good year and a bad year for their respective teams.