Full-Court Press: JUCO players ready to shine in the NCAA

Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early both played vital roles for Wichita State during its unexpected run to the Final Four last season.

Buzz Williams had one of the top teams in the Big East a few seasons ago because of the tenacious duo of Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, both of whom starred at the junior college level before becoming Marquette Golden Eagles.

Wichita State's Gregg Marshall followed the Marquette head coach's strategy to turn his squad into one of the top mid-major schools in the nation.

Marshall signed both players after they had impressive two-year careers at the junior college level. Hall, who joined the Shockers prior to the 2011-12 campaign, provided 12.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, while Early posted a team-best 13.6 points per game and concluded the season with 24 points and 10 boards against Louisville in the national semifinals.

Early was one of the most sought-after junior college prospects in the nation last offseason after he earned his second straight NJCAA Player of the Year award. Sullivan County Community College went 58-9 during his two seasons at the school.

But he is not the only recent junior college star to make a name for himself at the Division I level. Marshall Henderson (Ole Miss), Pierre Jackson (Baylor), Elijah Pittman (Marshall) and Xavier Munford (Rhode Island) were the leading scorers of their respective teams last season after taking the junior college route to the NCAA.

The last junior college player to jump straight to the NBA was Donta Smith in 2004. Since then, Division I programs have been able to land the top players from the NJCAA who are typically more physically mature and hungrier than incoming freshmen.

The top incoming junior college prospects are expected to have a big time impact on the 2013-14 campaign. The following players will be very helpful new additions to their new teams:

CHRIS JONES (LOUISVILLE) - The reigning NCAA champions lost their floor general, Peyton Siva, to graduation at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season. Siva gave the Cardinals an advantage at point guard almost every game due to his lighting quick first step and endless motor, which earned him a spot on the Detroit Pistons' roster. Siva will not be missed too much at Louisville because coach Rick Pitino found a new NBA prospect to place him in Jones. The 5-foot-11 point guard had one of the most talked-about performances at the junior college level last season, scoring his school-record 49th point on a 75-foot prayer to lift Northwest Florida State College to an 80-78 win in overtime. Jones will mesh very well with Louisville's Russ Smith, who considered entering the NBA Draft before announcing he would return for his senior season.

JAMEEL MCKAY (MARQUETTE) - Williams has a great track record of roping in high- caliber talent from the JUCO level and he found another gem that should fit perfectly with his hard-nosed system. McKay, who is a Milwaukee native, committed to his hometown school after considering alternatives such as Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Memphis and Iowa State. The 6-foot-8 forward plays with a high level of energy on both ends of the floor, which helps him clean the glass and score easy points in transition. McKay's style of play is very comparable to former South Carolina forward Renaldo Balkman. Williams couldn't have found a better match as he needed a versatile big guy to pair with the 6-8, 290-pound Davante Gardner.

YANICK MOREIRA (SMU) - With the Mustangs heading into their first season of American Athletic Conference play, Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown stayed busy searching for pieces to the puzzle. SMU added a McDonald's All-American in shooting guard Keith Frazier along with Moreira, a 6-11 center who is a member of the Angolan national team. Moreira averaged just under a double-double with 19.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game last season for South Plains College. The Mustangs' new center has shown he is a winner already. He was named the MVP of the NJCAA Tournament in 2011-12 after playing a vital role for the Texans in their undefeated season.

JAMAL JONES (TEXAS A&M) - Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy lost Henderson to an indefinite suspension after the trigger-happy shooting guard violated team rules. A few years prior to that, Kennedy dismissed Jones and Dundrecous Nelson for the same reason. Humbled by the experience, Jones transferred to Lee College in search of a second chance. At 6-8, he possesses great size for a player with a guard's skill set. He became one of the top players in the NJCAA before signing with coach Billy Kennedy's Aggies. Texas A&M showed improvement last season as it finished 17-14 and Jones could be a big factor in the school's journey back to the postseason.

KEANAU POST (MISSOURI) - The Tigers had a gaping hole up front to replace after Alex Oriakhi was drafted by the Suns in the second round of the draft. The 20- year-old Post was too raw to start at a powerhouse program like Missouri out of high school, but two years at two different junior colleges transformed the 6-11 center into a highly coveted recruit. Coach Frank Haith could have another big man drafted in the near future if Post continues to develop at such a speedy rate. He has been playing organized basketball for only five years entering his first year with the Tigers, but the once-clumsy Jamaican native has progressed his basketball IQ and developed his coordination. Post still has to polish his skills, but his raw talent will be an asset to Haith immediately.

Other notable JUCO players making their NCAA debuts in 2013-14 include: Elgin Cook (Oregon), Jelan Kendrick (UNLV), Darius Carter (Wichita State), Chris Thomas (Marshall), Jonathon Holton (West Virginia), Desmond Lee (NC State) and Algie Key (Alabama).