Juco Recruits: Are They the Answer?

    
November 19th, 2006
Every spring, college basketball fans witness a rash of junior college players committing to Division 1 programs as coaches scramble to fill their rosters.  By that time very few quality high school or prep school players are still available, so coaching staffs end up putting on full court presses on the only candidates that are left – jucos.

 

Some of these players come with glowing “credentials,” such as first-team or second-team junior college all-Americans, or all-regional honors.  Many of these juco players also have compiled impressive statistics that they bring with them to the next level.

 

As recently as fifteen or 20 years ago it was common for junior college transfers to have a significant impact when they entered Division 1 programs, even on high major teams. Juco programs at the time attracted two types of players – either those who were talented enough to be recruited by D-1 program right out of high school but lacked the grades or the test scores to qualify, or individuals who needed to refine their games to be effective in a four-year program.  In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, junior colleges were the primary stepping stone to Division 1 for such players, meaning they had to wait one or two years to play on a bigger stage.

 

Today junior colleges are no longer the primary option.  Most junior college programs have taken a back seat to the growing number of prep schools that offer aspiring D-1 players more pros, and fewer cons, than junior colleges do.

 

The primary difference, of course, is that after four years of high school and a fifth year of playing at a prep school, players still have four years of eligibility at a D-1 school whereas most juco players leave junior college after two years and have only two years of remaining eligibility.  That difference alone is extremely appealing to many players.

 

Another advantage is that it is easier for major programs to keep close tabs on the better prep school programs than it is to monitor the juco ranks.  Many prep school players get more publicity than do the overwhelming majority of junior college players, so it is more likely they will catch the attention of D-1 coaches.

 

Additionally, the quality of play, especially among the Top 20-30 prep school programs has consistently climbed the past few years, which leads to better competition.  Consequently, many prep school players enter D-1 ready to make immediate contributions.

 

But what about their junior college counterparts?  How significant are their contributions, especially at the highest level of D-1 ball?  To get an idea of what the answer might be, I checked the stats of last season’s incoming junior college players.  Included in that group are a couple of unusual situations, specifically two players who were Top 100 recruits coming out of high school, played on a high-major D-1 team as freshmen, then later left to spend a year at a junior college before returning to play D-1. 

 

Because these individuals began their careers in D-1 programs, I do not consider them typical junior college players, so they are not included in this analysis.  One of the two is Mario Boggan, who began his career at Florida and was ranked #53 on RSCI in the Class of 2002.  The other is Aaron Spears, who was ranked #86 on RSCI in the Class of ’02 and spent two years at Illinois, one of those a red-shirt season.  (Wes Washington, another Top 100 player - #82 in Class of 2003 – signed with Minnesota but did not play there and attended junior college before joining the Oregon State program a year ago.)

 

Besides Boggan and Spears, a total of 40 junior college transfers played in one of the so-called six elite conferences, while a couple of others red-shirted.  If we look at various measures of player impact, such as minutes per game, points per game, and rebounds or assists per game, we can get an idea of the kind of impact these players had their first year playing at the high-major level.

 

Playing Time

 

The following statistics pretty much tell the story about the lack of significant impact the majority of the 40 junior college transfers in the six power conferences had last season.  I have broken down playing time into six categories and provided the number of players whose average minutes per game fit within each category.

 

Less than 10 mpg: 13 players (32.5%)

10 mpg – 15 mpg: 12 players (30.0%)

15 mpg – 20 mpg:  4 players (10.0%)

20 mpg – 25 mpg:  5 players (12.5%)

25 mpg – 30 mpg:  5 players (12.5%)

More than 30 mpg: 1 player (2.5%)

 

In short, only 15% of those 40 junior college transfers played at least 25 mpg, while nearly three out of four (72.5%) played less than 20 mpg and more than three out of five (62.5%) played less than 15 mpg.

 

The only player to average over 30 mpg was Michael Neal of Oklahoma, who, without question, was a key player for the Sooners.  The five players who averaged between 25 and 30 mpg were McHugh Mattis of South Florida (29.0 mpg), Cedric McGowan of Cincinnati (28.0 mpg), Antwi Atuahene of Arizona State (25.7 mpg), and Akeem Wright (28.5 mpg) and David Hoskins (26.5 mpg), both of Kansas State.

 

Scoring

 

The figures for scoring are even more revealing.  This time there are five categories, and I’ve provided the numbers of players – and the percentage of the 40 players – who fall into each one.

 

Less than 5.0 ppg: 24 players (60%)

5.0 ppg – 7.5 ppg: 8 players (20%)

7.6 ppg – 9.9 ppg: 5 players (12.5%)

10.0 ppg – 15.0 ppg: 3 players (7.5%)

More than 15.0 ppg: 0 players (0.0%)

 

The figures speak for themselves.  Exactly 80% of the 40 junior college transfers averaged fewer than 7.5 ppg, and only three averaged in double figures!  Those three were Torre Johnson of Oklahoma State, who barely made it at 10.1 ppg, Michael Neal at 12.4 ppg, and David Hoskins at 13.1 ppg.  Johnson, by the way, left Oklahoma State by “mutual agreement” and is sitting out the year as a transfer before being eligible next fall at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

 

What about the three former Top 100 recruits who signed with high-major D-1 programs but ended up playing junior college ball for a year?  Well, Boggan clearly had the greatest impact as he averaged 14.9 ppg in 27.7 mpg last season at Oklahoma State.  Spears averaged 7.2 ppg and only 3.0 rpg in 21.3 mpg at St. John’s, while Washington averaged only 4.2 ppg at Oregon State.

 

Other Data

 

In terms of rebounding only two of the 40 players averaged more than 5.5 rpg – Mattis (7.3 rpg) and McGowan (7.2 rpg).  Obviously both made significant contributions on the boards even though neither averaged double digits in points.

 

Only two other juco newcomers averaged over 5.0 rpg – Akeem Wright (5.4 rpg) and Atuahena (5.1 rpg).

 

As for assists, not one of the 40 averaged even 4.0 assists per game, and only one averaged over 3.0 per game.

 

Conclusions

 

It is always dangerous to draw too many conclusions from a limited sample.  However, I did a similar analysis for the incoming junior college players for the 2004-2005 season, and the results were not much different, though a few more juco transfers did make their mark, like Taj Gray at Oklahoma and Carl Landry at Purdue.

 

Still, the primary conclusion seems to be not to expect too much from incoming junior college players, at least at schools in one of the top six conferences.  The junior college honors and the occasional gaudy scoring, rebounding, and assist statistics are no assurance that players will have a significant impact on their D-1 team.  There is no question that players like Michael Neal, David Hoskins, Akeem Wright, Cedric McGowan, McHugh Mattis, Antwi Atuahene, and Torre Johnson played significant roles on their teams.  But they are the exception rather than the rule.  Instead, most members of the 2005-2006 incoming juco class were either complementary players off the bench or limited role players who didn’t even make the eight-man rotation.

 

 

A Look Ahead

 

This year 40 incoming junior college players are presently listed on rosters of schools in the ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 10, and SEC.  That’s identical to the number a year ago.  However, the distribution of players this year is somewhat bizarre.  With seven junior college newcomers at Cincinnati and five others at Texas Tech, 30% of junior college transfers are enrolled at those two schools.  Add three more at Iowa State, and that’s 15 of the 40 (37.5%) at three schools.

 

Will the overall impact of this year’s juco newcomers be as minimal as it was a year ago?  While it is too early to make any definitive predictions, the answer is probably not.  Early returns are inconclusive, and situations can change dramatically during the course of a season.  Injuries to teammates, for example, can open up additional playing time.  Whatever happens, it’s unlikely only three of these 40 players will average in double figures this season.  It’s also difficult to imagine only six players averaging over 25.0 mpg.  In fact, as of November 19, only 13 of these 40 players are averaging 25.0 mpg so far this season.

 

I’ll check back at mid-season to see how much of an impact this class of junior college players has had to that point.