Men's Basketball

Junior College Players Hit or Miss at Loyola

Henry Redman | The PhoenixSenior Aundre Jackson was named Missouri Valley Conference Sixth Man of the Year his first season with the Ramblers after transferring from junior college.

The Loyola men’s basketball team (16-4, 6-2) has seen success with junior college players during head coach Porter Moser’s seven seasons at the helm. An average of 14.5 percent of junior college men’s basketball players transfer to Division I universities, according to the NCAA.

During the Moser era, six junior college players have graduated from Loyola and two — junior forward Adarius Avery and senior forward Aundre Jackson — are still going through the program.

Jackson played at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, from 2014-16 before coming to Loyola. While at McLennan, he averaged 15 ppg and seven rpg. Jackson also averaged 65 percent shooting, which ranked fourth in the country, while leading McLennan to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I tournament.

Jackson said he went to junior college to figure out what career path he wanted to take while also continuing his basketball career. From there, he said the journey to Division I wasn’t easy.

“When I was graduating high school, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do,” Jackson said. “So I emailed junior colleges around me and McLennan stuck out. [The coach] said they were watching me, so it worked out. That’s what we play for at junior college, to go to Division I. It’s just more of a grind when you go [to junior college] because you know you have to go somewhere after that.”

Avery played at Connors State College in Muskogee, Oklahoma from 2015-17. He averaged 24.1 ppg in the 2016-17 season, which ranked second in the nation for junior colleges, and 10.9 rpg. This season — his first at Loyola — he’s been recovering from an arm injury suffered over the summer, which has decreased his playing time. He wasn’t available for comment.

Loyola assistant coach Bryan Mullins is heavily involved with the recruiting process. He said the recruiting process is typically the same for junior college players and high school players because of Moser’s recruiting strategy.

“For us, in terms of recruiting and what we look for in players, it’s really the same [as recruiting in high school],” Mullins said. “Coach Moser has his philosophy and his set of values and beliefs that we’ve all kind of taken on, and it starts with character. Whether he’s a high school kid or a junior college transfer or a D-I transfer, the character box has to be checked for us.”

Mullins attributed Moser’s philosophy to the success the program has had with junior college transfers in the past. Graduated players Montel James and Earl Peterson both came to Loyola from Coffeyville Community College in Coffeyville, Kansas, and left their marks on the program. James was named Second Team All-Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) his senior year in 2016 and averaged 10.6 ppg in his two years at Loyola while Peterson was named MVP of the College Basketball Invitational when Loyola won the tournament in 2015.

“I think … one of the main reasons we’ve had success over the last couple years is because [Moser] has been able to find a bunch of high character guys [and] guys who have come from winning programs,” Mullins said. “That’s one of the things we look for in high school kids and junior college kids: Kids that come from good programs. Adarius comes from Connors State, they went to [the national tournament] … so did Montel and Earl Peterson, they came from Coffeyville. Their head coach just got inducted into the [NJCAA] Hall of Fame.”

Peterson said while the transition was tough because of the intensity of games in D-I, it was easier because the coaches helped him with the adjustment and his roommate, James, was by his side.

“Coming from [junior college] … I wouldn’t say it was [a] difficult [transition], but it was challenging because the pace of the game is so different,” Peterson said. “I wouldn’t have had a problem going by myself, but it was good to have my roommate and teammate with me.”

While James, Peterson and Jackson have been successful, other junior college transfers such as Maurice Kirby, who transferred to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and Cody Johnson, had trouble adjusting to D-I. Kirby transferred to Loyola after one season at Coffeyville and averaged 1.5 ppg and 1.9 rpg in 55 games for the Ramblers in two years. Johnson came from Western Nebraska Community College and averaged 2.7 ppg and 1.7 rpg in 23 games during the 2013-14 season, his only at Loyola.

Moser said there’s a transition both academically and athletically for junior college players coming to D-I, and it can be tough for coaches because they only have two years with the players instead of four.

“Everything is at a different level, so there’s always a transition,” Moser said. “We’ve had some success with that. We had Montel and Earl Peterson. Aundre Jackson’s been a great addition for us. But you could hit or miss on it because you’ve got two years [and] there’s a sense of urgency with it. But it’s really got to be a fit for you.”

Jackson said his advice to other junior college players making the transition to D-I is to avoid changing their playing styles while also following the coaching style.

“I’d say come here [and] buy into the system but still do what you’re known for,” Jackson said. “I was known for being aggressive and finishing around the rim, so I came here [and] I fit in perfectly with the system and I just continue to do what I did that got me here.”

Now two years post-graduation, Peterson offered his advice as well, saying patience and confidence are his two keys to succeeding in D-I after junior college.

“You’re going to have games you don’t do [well] in and you’re going to have games you’re great in,” Peterson said. “Don’t let your confidence be shot down by anything.”

Jackson, Avery and the Ramblers are scheduled to head to Drake University Jan. 24 to battle for sole possession of first place in the MVC before taking on the University of Northern Iowa Jan. 28 at Gentile Arena.

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