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  • Writer's pictureColin McNamara

NJCCA D1 Men's Update: Off-Season Impacts and Teams on Rise

Most successful Division I junior college players pack their bags after one year with their respective programs, or they are forced to move on from the two-year colleges due to eligibility issues. This often causes complete roster turnovers, making it difficult for teams to remain stable and at the top of the rankings. So let’s look at how the off-season has treated last year’s top-10 ranked teams thus far, and five additional teams likely to make a National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Championship run.

1. Salt Lake Community College, Utah (35-2)

The Bruins were one of the most dominant teams in JUCO history last season, but fell short in the NJCAA Finals, losing to the 10th-seeded Northwest Florida State College Raiders, 83-67. Salt Lake was stacked with talent, causing Division I schools from all around the nation to sift through its roster.

Two of the team’s biggest losses include All-American guards Jordan Brinson and Quincy McGriff. The backcourt duo led Salt Lake in scoring, each tallying over 13 points per game. Both players signed with Division I programs, as Brinson is headed to Fresno State while McGriff travels across the country to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With all five starters on the move, Head Coach Kyle Taylor will need to bring in a lot of talent and experience.

2. Indian River State College, Florida (28-5)

Indian River St. had a rough postseason. It lost in the South Atlantic District Championship and then in the second round of the NJCAA National Tournament as the sixth seed.

The Pioneers were defined by their scoring and three-point shooting last season, but they took a hit in both of those categories. First Team All-American selection AJ Cajuste, who led the team in scoring with 19.5 points per game, signed with Stephen F. Austin University and marksman Kyle Feit, who led Division I JUCO with 112 three-pointers made, is taking his elite shooting ability to New Mexico State.

Former Garden City Community College Head Coach Bill Morosco is at the helm of the program now and will have his hands full this off-season as nearly everybody from last year’s team will be playing elsewhere.

3. Kilgore College, Texas (31-3)

After breaking the school’s single-season win record, the Rangers made it to the NJCAA National Tournament Quarterfinals, but lost to the 11th-seeded Triton Trojans, 76-65. Kilgore will not have All-American guards Dantwan Grimes and Paul Otieno for next season’s run, as they transferred to Baylor and Quinnipiac, but the team still has something to look forward to.

Guard Isaac Hoberecht is returning after starting in all 33 of his appearances last season. Hoberecht averaged 6.0 points per game on 38.1% shooting from three and should be the Rangers go-to guy.

4. Dodge City Community College, Kansas (30-5)

After tallying a school record 30 wins and winning the KJCCC, Dodge City received the second seed in the NJCAA National Tournament, but lost in the quarterfinals to Northwest Florida State, 92-74. The Conquistadors were led by a small yet explosive backcourt that featured Kalen Williams and Themus Fulks, Dodge City’s first All-American since 2017.

Williams will be taking his 16.2 points and 4.0 assists per game to Texas A&M University-Commerce, while Fulks leaves behind a legacy at Dodge City. He carved his name in the record books before transferring to the University of Louisville, finishing the season fourth in school history for single-season points (600), field goals made (219) and assists (189) after starting in all 35 games. Amongst the 4 other Dodge City players headed to D1 is Nick Pringle who signed with Alabama.

Brad Witherspoon, who previously coached at Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa and won their conference last year, takes over for Jake Williams with a brand new team.

5. John A. Logan College, Illinois (29-4)

The Vols lost in the second round of the NJCAA National Tournament last season but have already added two extremely talented transfers. Guard Curt Lewis spent his last three seasons at Eastern Kentucky University, Division I, where he averaged 9.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Guard Isaiah Stafford played at a Division II school, the University of Southern Indiana, last season and averaged 8.8 points and 1.3 assists per game.

It is going to be hard for them to replace Junior College Player of the Year and First Team All-American Sean East, but this is as good of a trade-off as you can get.

6. Indian Hills Community College, Iowa (27-6)

Indian Hills was one of the oldest and most experienced teams in all of JUCO last season. The Warriors made it to the second round of the NJCAA National Tournament, but lost to Northwest Florida State in heartbreaking fashion, 65-64.

Indian Hills is another team that lost an All-American duo in guards J’Vonne Hadley and Taj Anderson, who will each be playing Division I basketball next season. With Head Coach Hank Plona still at the helm, the Warriors will be a competitive team no matter what the roster looks like.

7. Chipola College, Florida (30-6)

Chipola made it to the NJCAA Semifinals for the second consecutive year, losing both games by a combined total of five points. After getting so close to the promised land, the Indians may take a step back next season after losing some height.

Six-foot-ten-inch guard Nae’qwan Tomlin was an All-American last season and his team-leading 13.8 points per game earned him a spot on Kansas State’s roster. Six-foot-nine-inch forward Faizon Fields was Chipola’s anchor on both ends of the floor. Fields averaged 9.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, while shooting 70.0% from the field. The Indians did, however, bring in Division I-transfer Gabriel Vargas who should fill the scoring void left by Tomlin.

8. Odessa College, Texas (28-7)

Similar to Chipola, Odessa lost by two points to Salt Lake in the quarterfinals of the NJCAA National Tournament. Sophomore guard Daniss Jenkins provided an elite blend of production and efficiency this past season for the Wranglers, but has decided to transfer to NCAA D1 Iona.

Jenkins’ 15.0 points and 5.3 assists per game on 40.3% shooting from three earned him First Team All-American honors. Freshman guard Darrell Strong Jr. will be returning to Odessa and his 46.8% shooting from three will be much needed. The Wranglers shot just 33.1% from three this past season, which should make Strong a focal point of the offense after Jenkins’ departure.

9. Harcum College, Pennsylvania (32-3)

The Bears made it back to the NJCAA National Tournament for the first time in six seasons but were bounced by Chipola in the quarterfinals. Harcum lost both All-Americans in forward Mohamed Wague and guard Tre Dinkins, who are both transferring to Division I schools.

Head Coach Drew Kelly has signed a few high school graduates during the off-season, including guards Dorian Jones and Raheem Roberts. Harcum may be inexperienced and unproven, but that does not mean Kelly’s 429-102 career record won’t continue to improve.

10. Triton College, Illinois (30-6)

Triton had a Cinderella run in the NJCAA National Tournament, advancing to the semifinals as the 11th-seed. The Trojans were led by First Team All-American Patrick Suemnick, a do-it-all forward. Suemnick will be playing at West Virginia next season after averaging 12.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game for the Trojans.

Head Coach John Clancy has been busy during the off-season, bringing in multiple JUCO-transfers, but his crown jewel is Division I-transfer Keyondre Young. Young is a six-foot-nine-inch guard who averaged 4.5 points and 1.5 rebounds per game last season for Valparaiso University.

Five Teams Likely to Thrive Next Season

Snow College, Utah (26-8)

It’s very rare to see starters returning to teams as good as Snow, but forward Clayton Southwick and guard Chase Potter are ready for round two. After they each averaged more than 12 points per game last season, the two should have no issue carrying the offensive load left by All-American guard Drake Allen.

Snow is also adding multiple experienced transfers, including forward Jackson Brinkerhoff from the College of Southern Idaho and center Zach Visentin from Idaho State, NCAA Division I. With all of the new and returning talent, I expect Snow to be a sure-fire top-10 team next season.

Lee College, Texas (27-6)

Guard Nickolas Traylor and forward Chance Brown are returning. Traylor started in 26 of his 30 appearances, while Brown primarily came off the bench, starting in 12 of his 31 appearances. Brown put up 10.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, while Traylor averaged 8.0 points per game, shooting 35.9% from three on a team that needed it. The Runnin’ Rebels lost All-American guard Kyron Gibson but have kept a solid core intact.

College of Southern Idaho, Idaho (24-9)

The Golden Eagles’ roster was stuffed with second-year players last season, but they have done an incredible job replacing the talent and experience lost. Southern Idaho is bringing back the only freshmen that got significant playing time in guard Jakari Livingston and forward Robert Whaley. Neither cracked the starting lineup but they put up a combined 20.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Both were hard-nosed on the defensive end as well. Livingston averaged 1.4 steals per game, which led the team, and Whaley averaged 0.8 steals and blocks per game.

Head Coach Jeff Reinert has already recruited two impact players on the offensive end. JUCO-transfer guard Hasan Abdul-Hakim spent two seasons at Santa Fe College, averaging 13.2 points and 2.8 assist per game, and Nate Meithof competed in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Westmont College, averaging 18.6 points per game.

Pearl River Community College, Mississippi (24-4)

Similar to Southern Idaho, Pearl River had a lot of older players who were not eligible to return. However, the Wildcats bring back forward Carlous Williams and guard Dylan Brumfield. They each played in all 28 games, with Brumfield starting in 27 of them.

All-American forward Jaronn Wilkens transferred to Southern University, leaving a massive hole in the Wildcats front court. It did not take long for Head Coach Chris Oney to fill that void, picking up former Division I-forward Caleb Rawls. Rawls did not get much of an opportunity at McNeese State but has all the talent in the world.

Connors State College, Oklahoma (28-6)

Despite winning the South Central District Title, Connors State seemed to go relatively under the radar as the team was left out of the top-25 rankings. This will not be the case next year as the Cowboys have some of the best returning players in the nation.

Connors State has retained guards Xavier Glenn and Xavier Brown and forward Mason Alexander. Glenn started in 24 of his 29 appearances, averaging 12.5 points and 2.2 assist per game, while Brown came off the bench in each of his 16 appearances, averaging 6.1 points per game and shooting 45% from three. Alexander contributed with 6.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in 33 appearances. The Cowboys have also added a few JUCO transfers and high school graduates to help fill out the roster.

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