Action Jackson: Baylor Playmaker is Favorite to Become Big 12 MVP

Will former junior college guard Pierre Jackson of Baylor live up to the preseason projection of him becoming Big 12 Conference Player of the Year? Jucos such as Jackson weren't looked at so condescendingly by many four-year universities because of an improved image after the advent of stiffer academic requirements for Division I freshman eligibility. But amid more rigid scholastic standards for both high school and J.C. prospects, the jucos might go back to being deemed the rogues of recruiting.

Mid-major schools figure to be hit hardest by any reduction in the flow of juco talent but power leagues have often filled in holes from the J.C. ranks. The misconceptions regarding junior college basketball aren't helped when network TV pulls a snafu such as in the early 1990s when it was mistakenly inferred that Kentucky guard Dale Brown was the first instance of the Wildcats recruiting a junior college player.

Actually, legendary coach Adolph Rupp, a Kansas native, regularly attended the NJCAA Tournament at Hutchinson, Kan., in the 1950s and recruited four tournament MVPs or leading scorers. Two of the four didn't play much for Kentucky or transferred, but the other two - Bob Burrow (Lon Morris) and Sid Cohen (Kilgore) - proved to be pivotal players for the Wildcats and were selected in the NBA draft. Burrow, an NCAA consensus second-team All-American in 1956, still holds the school record for rebound average in a career (16.1 rpg). Guard Adrian Smith, a key member of Kentucky's 1958 NCAA champion, was also a junior college recruit. Ditto Doug Pendygraft, who joined UK after setting an NJCAA record with 63 points in a national tournament game for Lindsey Wilson.

John Wooden's first center with UCLA was Carl Kraushaar, a transfer from Compton (CA) Community College who led the Bruins in scoring in 1948-49 and was an All-PCC selection the next season. Often overlooked amid UCLA's amazing run of nine NCAA Tournament titles in a 10-year span from 1964 through 1973 was the impact of junior college products. The Bruins had six J.C. recruits, including 1970 Final Four Most Outstanding Player Sidney Wicks, who were part of multiple NCAA championships.

The Big Ten Conference has never had an abundance of junior college players, but J.C. transfer Dick Garmaker (Hibbing) scored 37 points for Minnesota in his first league game in 1954 before becoming an NCAA consensus All-American the next year.

Burrow (1954) and Garmaker (1952) are two of five players - including Furman's Darrell Floyd (1951), Tulsa's Paul Pressey (1980) and St. John's Walter Berry (1984) - who were named NJCAA Tournament MVP before becoming NCAA All-Americans. Berry also participated in the NCAA Final Four.

Five of the top six scorers for Oklahoma's 2002 Final Four team were former junior college players. Former Sooners coach Kelvin Sampson is fond of the realistic view junior college recruits offer a roster.

"A lot of their egos are broken down already," Sampson said. "They've been through a lot on and off the court. High school kids sometimes have egos that you have to work through. Their bubble hasn't burst yet. A high school kid sometimes gets faced with, `I thought I was better than this.' Also, juco kids only have two years left. They're hungry."

Jackson (Southern Idaho) might become the first player since Arizona's Jason Terry in 1998-99 to lead a power six conference in both scoring and assists the same year. Another "hungry" juco jewel this season is fellow guard Marshall Henderson (South Plains, TX), who is making a name for himself by sparking Ole Miss to the Rebels' best SEC start since national postseason competition commenced in the late 1930s. Either or both of them could join the following alphabetical list of J.C. recruits who became MVP in a power six league:

Player of Year Pos. School Conference Season Junior College(s)
Tony Allen G Oklahoma State Big 12 2003-04 Butler County (KS)/Wabash Valley (IL)
Walter Berry F-C St. John's Big East 1985-86 San Jacinto (TX)
Lester Conner G Oregon State Pacific-10 1981-82 Los Medanos (CA)/Chabot (CA)
Jae Crowder F Marquette Big East 2011-12 South Georgia Tech/Howard County (TX)
Ed Gray G California Pacific-10 1996-97 Southern Idaho
Bobby Jackson G Minnesota Big Ten 1996-97 Western Nebraska
Cliff Meely F-C Colorado Big Eight 1970-71 Northeastern (CO)
Chris Porter F Auburn Southeastern 1998-99 Chipola (FL)
Willie Smith G Missouri Big Eight 1975-76 Seminole (OK)
Marcus Thornton G Louisiana State Southeastern 2008-09 Kilgore (TX)
Jamaal Tinsley G Iowa State Big 12 2000-01 Mount San Jacinto (CA)
Sam Williams F Iowa Big Ten 1967-68 Burlington (IA)