Transition Time

From  Saluki Illustrated, February 2010

Transition Time

Three Salukis are making the jump from junior college basketball to               Division I–a move that can be challenging, frustrating and, in the end, hopefully rewarding.

The life of a basketball player transferring from the junior college level can be challenging. In most cases, the player has to deal with a new city, a new campus, new courses and new friends, just like any student making the move from a community college to a four-year university. But for those coming to campus to play basketball, the challenges are even greater: immediate expectations, a shortened time to prove themselves in new system and a coaching staff familiar only from recruiting trips, phone calls and television appearances.

Three young men are sharing this experience as transfers for the Southern Illinois University basketball team. For them, it’s a season of learning and adjustments. It’s something that Saluki basketball coach Chris Lowery understands.

“Usually most jucos struggle in their first year and then you see a lot of improvement and they begin to understand what you need from the midpoint of the season to their last year,” he says. “That’s kind of how we’ve done with these kids. We know that they’re going to continue to help at the end of this year and more importantly, next year when they’re older. As seniors, they’ll really know what we expect of them.”

Three former junior college players are members of this year’s Saluki squad: juco transfers John Freeman and Jack Crowder and junior walk-on Nate Mitchell, who played for Southeastern Illinois College in Harrisburg, just 40 miles east of Carbondale.

A 6-5 guard, Freeman (no relation to Saluki starter Tony Freeman) averaged 15.0 points per game at Vincennes University and grabbed an average of 7.0 boards per game. As SIU, he’s seen a fair amount of playing time, and even started three December games despite being bothered by an ongoing hamstring injury. He says he’s seen a difference between junior college basketball and the game at the upper level of the collegiate game.

“In Division I, there is less room for error,” he says. “In junior college, you can make mistakes and come back. At this level, especially on the road, you have to play an almost perfect game in order to win or to at least put yourself in a position to win.”

Lowery says that even though the Indianapolis native missed nearly three weeks of practice time because of the injury, he can do a lot of different things in for the team. It’s a role that Freeman has taken as his own.

“Actually I try to do a lot of the little things like rebound, throw the extra pass and keep balls alive. It’s the same thing I did in junior college, without as much pressure to score,” he explains.

Originally from Wichita, Kan., 6-4 guard Jack Crowder is a former juco All-American who averaged 20.6 points per game for Kansas’ Cowley College, and was ranked as the number 24 juco prospect by He’s been a key reserve for the Salukis, despite mixing six games with a shoulder injury. He too has embraced his role in coming off of the bench.

“I’m just trying to help out the team and get wins. I know my job is coming in for the starters and giving them a chance to catch a breather. I have to come in and play as hard as possible,” he says.

Walk-on transfer Nate Mitchell had a unique perspective, playing junior college basketball at SIC and high school basketball at nearby Carrier Mills, where the 6-5 forward was a two-time all-conference selection. He says being from Southern Illinois has been advantageous.

“I, of course, have more a home feel,” he explains. “I knew what to expect when I came here because I knew the history and reputation of the team. I knew that it was a defensive-minded team and I knew about the work ethic.”

Lowery says he wants all of his transfer students to come in with a strong work ethic.

“We expect jucos to be a lot more aggressive. Since they’ve already played 60 college games, we expect them to come in and really play hard. I know it’s a very different brand of basketball at jucos as opposed to the Division I level—it’s a game that’s more free, it’s a lot quicker here, and we’re hitting them with so much stuff to remember and to understand, it can be overwhelming.”

“It is a mental thing,” John Freeman says. “We just have to try to keep our heads and stay ready for whenever we’re called.”

Even during their first year, these transfers are making a difference for the Salukis.

“They’re vocal on the bench and they understand,” says Lowery. “They have been great for us for the simple fact that they work hard and practice. It hasn’t always translated yet on the court, but we are very confident that they’re going to help us to grow into a better team in the future.

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