Camron Donatlan To South Suburban as Transfer Portal Comes to JUCO
The fact that players can now put their names in the transfer portal after only one season perplexes South Suburban, Ill. Coach John Pigatti. But the way one of his new players, Cam Donatlan, sees it, it’s cool.
Pigatti will start the season with 10 transfers – including Donatlan, a 6-3, 205-pound sophomore guard – on his 14-player roster. It will be interesting to see what happens down the road, the old school coach says, with a roster full of new faces, combining forces to pursue a common goal.
For Donatlan, transferring “is good for you if don’t know what you want to do, if the fit isn’t there.” Lucky for Pigatti, he and Donatlan will be on the same South Suburban, Ill. National Junior College Athletic Association Division ll team in South Holland this season.
“As an NCAA coach you now have to worry about who is staying or going all-year around,” said Pigatti. “I think it hurts the NCAA schools because it is open season on any player at any time. Transfers in junior college can be a good thing because it creates a ‘Last Chance U’ type of environment. Players come to you with the hope of transferring to a 4-year school, and they only have one chance at getting that done. I think they will be more coachable and compliant to do what the coach wants.”
Transfers at the JUCO level are often older and more mature and that helps a coach, no matter the sport. That, in fact, is what Pigatti liked about Donatlan. He saw plenty of Donatlan when he played a game against South Suburban last season. Donatlan had 16 points and 5 rebounds as South Suburban beat North Central, Mo. (85-83) – where Donatlan transferred in from - in the second round of the NJCAA Dll Tournament. “I liked how athletic Camron was and how he was very hard to guard going downhill,” said Pigatti. “He just fit in to what we were doing with this year’s team.”
Now Donatlan is a probable South Suburban starter, according to the coach. No matter the case, it will be a solid transfer with a solid coach on a solid team. Pigatti, in fact, has built a powerhouse at the school that changed its name in 1988 from Thornton to South Suburban to more reflect the geographic location of the college.
Pigatti’s coaching style makes South Suburban a big time team during the regular season and should keep it in the hunt for the coveted NJCAA Dll Tournament championship at season’s end. In the 15 seasons he has been at South Suburban, Pigatti has done very well (430-85); the Bulldogs’ record at home is an astounding 230-15. Last season South Suburban had a 20-6 record. The Bulldogs are the only team to make 11 appearances in the past 15 years in the NJCAA Tournament and are the only juco in any of the three NJCAA Divisions to have back-to-back Players of The Year (Courtney Carter in 2020 and Deshawndre Washington in 2021).
For Donatlan, it will be the left-hander’s fourth college . He started in football, projected to be a wide receiver and play on special teams at Wyoming. He was at Iowa Central juco, where he played football, and North Central juco, where he played basketball, before coming to South Suburban. He left West Aurora, Ill. high school in May of 2018.
At Wyoming, the three-sport athlete – he’s also a top-notch high jumper who has cleared 7-0 – hoped to compete in track. He won the high jump three times and the long jump once, at 24 feet 2 inches in the Illinois state meet. He was the 59th best high school football player in the state according to 247 Sports, even though he only played in only five games his senior season. Still, Donatlan had 540 rushing yards, 199 receiving yards, 206 yards on kickoff returns and 945 yards all-purpose yards as a senior.
Donatlan red-shirted and didn’t compete in any sport at Wyoming. When Donatlan left Wyoming – he was there from July, 2018 to August, 2019 – some intriguing schools were interested: Illinois, Minnesota and Western Kentucky. He could have been star-struck but didn’t pick a Big 10 Conference school to attend and chose instead Western Kentucky. That school was going to let him play football and participate in track, but he became extremely ill, never recovered and missed Western Kentucky’s move-in day. Thus, he went to Iowa Central juco where he wound up playing several positions in football.
“I think his football background and his overall athletic ability will be very beneficial to our team and his game individually,” said Pigatti. “I know that playing football helped me a lot,” said Donatlan “It helped me get stronger. I attack the lanes much stronger now.”
“He (Cam) was very special while he was here,” said Brian Johnson, Donatlan’s high school basketball coach. “He’s gifted. He was outstanding in the three sports that he participated in while he was here. Competing in a sport (football) where you have to be physical and you have to be able to react quickly will only help him.” As a senior on his high school basketball team, Donatlan averaged 18 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. “People are not used to left-handers,” said Johnson. “Even if teams in high school knew he was left-handed he could get to his left at will. He was versatile in high school, too. He probably could have been a quarterback or a nice left-handed pitcher.”
“I liked playing a lot of positions in football (at Iowa Central),” said Donatlan. “I was more active and I liked that.” Still, deep down inside he was not content. “I went to the recreation center and played basketball after [football] practice,” he admits now. After an ankle dislocation it hit him mentally that his first true love was basketball. “Basketball was a sport that he enjoyed competing in the most,” said Johnson. “He has always been passionate about basketball.”
He left Iowa Central for North Central, a Dll juco in Trenton, Mo. that doesn’t have football or track and he concentrated on hoops. “I felt I could take my game to the next level playing just one sport,” said Donatlan. In his first game in almost three years, Donatlan came in off the bench and saw some action against Kansas City, Kansas. “After that game, I wasn’t satisfied,” said Donatlan. “I thought, ‘I still have a lot to prove.’”
“He’s a super athlete,” said North Central Coach Jeremy Esry. “You have to remember that when he came here he hadn’t played basketball in a very long time. You could see that he was rusty, but you could also see that he had plenty of potential.” When the season was over Donatlan had averaged 8.5 points and 4 rebounds for North Central and was, according to Esry, “getting it. He was one of the most talented kids we’ve ever had here. Once he gets more basketball in him he will really be good.” Said Johnson of what he saw: “He brings a real special skill set to what he can do off the dribble, how he attacks the rim and finishes. His instincts are to find the open person when he has the ball in his hands. It surprised me a little when he left for Wyoming to play football. I think he jumped on the opportunity to see where that would take him.”
All Donatlan eventually wanted sub-consciously, however, was to play basketball and get back home, or close to it; that should eventually show up in his play and in the box score. He is now only about 50 miles away from his hometown of Aurora.
“I never played just one sport,” said Donatlan. “Now I can focus on just one sport.” Said Pigatti: “I can see why Cam wants this sport to be a part of his future.” It took a lot of transferring – welcome to the world of college sports – but Donatlan made it work. “The conditioning we went through this summer got me in shape and now I am in the best shape since I was at Wyoming,” said Donatlan. “I am a lot more confident. I took two years off of basketball and now I feel more complete deciding on it.” After playing only one season at South Suburban, he will – you guessed it – transfer and play at a four-year school.
Here are some other players of note:
MOVIN' ON NATIONAL JC ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION 2020-21 All-Americans
Signee Ht. Juco 4-Year School
Linton Brown 6-5 Indian River St., Fla. St. Bonaventure
Dashawn Davis 6-3 Trinity Valley, Texas Oregon St.
Deng Dut 6-4 Southern Idaho Wyoming
El Ellis 6-3 Tallahassee, Fla. Louisville
*Tyem Freeman 6-6 Indian Hills, Iowa Central Florida
Malevy Leons 6-10 Mineral Area, Mo. Bradley
Matt Mayers 6-8 Hutchinson, Kans. Robert Morris, Pa. Tyrel Morgan 6-5 No. Oklahoma-Tonkawa Jacksonville
Dalen Ridgnal 6-7 Cowley, Kans. Georgia
Rivaldo Soares 6-6 South Plains, Texas Oregon
Signee Ht. Juco 4-Year School
De'Marius Boyd 6-2 Walters St., Tenn. Returnee
* Stephen Byard 6-7 Cochise, Ariz. Returnee
Elijah Farr 6-8 Olney Central, Miss. Murray St.
Kaleb Higgins 5-10 Holmes, Miss. Calif. St.-Bakersfield
Jordan Johnson 5-11 Hinds, Miss. Denver U.
Dalton Knecht 6-7 Northeastern, Colo. Northern Colorado
Jackson Makoi 6-5 Daytona St., Fla. Professional
**Tylor Perry 5-11 Coffeyville, Kans. North Texas
Jalen Reynolds 6-7 South Georgia Tech Returnee
Keisei Tominaga 6-1 Ranger, Texas Nebraska
Tyrone Williams 6-5 Grayson, Texas Returnee
•• MVP NJCAA Dl Tournament
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