Arizona State has been awfully busy on the junior college recruiting trail recently, with three of their six newcomers coming from that level of basketball. The number of newcomers rose to seven Thursday afternoon, as Connors State (Okla.) JC forward Willie Atwood announced his decision to join the Arizona State program.
Atwood, a 6-foot-8 forward who was also considering Florida State and Iowa, is one of the top junior college players in the country according to multiple recruiting services. As a sophomore at Connors State, Atwood averaged 20.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Atwood shot 57.6% from the field and 77.4% from the foul line.
His best offensive performance came on November 13 in a 90-87 loss to Independence CC, in which he scored 48 points with 33 of those points coming from the foul line (in 37 attempts). Atwood reached double figures in all 30 of the games he played in (12 double-doubles), and of his 12 double-digit rebounding efforts there was a 20-rebound performance in a win over Seminole State College in mid-January.
With Jahii Carson, Jordan Bachynski and Jermaine Marshall all having moved on, there will be plenty of opportunities for Atwood and the six other newcomers to earn immediate playing time next season. Shaquielle McKissic, who was granted a sixth season of eligibility last week, is Arizona State’s most productive returnee with guard Bo Barnes and forward Jonathan Gilling also being members of the rotation that reached the NCAA tournament in 2013-14.
Atwood joins Savon Goodman and Connor MacDougall as Arizona State’s front court additions, with junior college transfers Gerry Blakes and Roosevelt Scott and incoming freshmen Tra Holder and Kodi Justice on the perimeter.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.