LAS VEGAS — While the paths taken to Las Vegas by the players who participated in the JucoRecruiting.com All-American Showcase are different, with Division I transfers playing alongside junior college products entering their second year and unsigned high school grads hoping to earn the opportunity to play somewhere, the ultimate goal tends to be the same: to earn a scholarship to play at a Division I school.
In order to get there, these players have to not only prove their worth on the court but also in the classroom, with that particular issue being the reason why some prospects had to take an alternate route to a Division I school.
That was the case for guard Andre Spight, who after attending summer school at UTEP in 2013 found out in mid-July of that year that he had not qualified academically. For some that would have been the opportunity needed to feel sorry for themselves as opposed to looking in the mirror and addressing the issue directly. That wasn’t the case for Spight, who moved on to South Plains College in Levelland, Texas with a valuable lesson in tow.
“I just have to get my grades straight and my priorities straight,” Spight told NBCSports.com. “After that the sky’s the limit. You can’t let anything stop you, especially academically.”
Spight’s first season at South Plains was a good one, as he posted averages of 16.0 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game on a team that finished the year with a 29-6 record and reached the quarterfinals of the Division I NJCAA tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas. Spight’s primary role was to provide scoring off the ball, with Sekou Harris (4.9 apg, 1.8 A/T ratio) serving as the team’s primary ball-handler. Now with Harris having moved on to South Dakota, Spight’s responsibilities will change some as he’ll be asked to spend more time at the point.
As a result Spight will need to improve the skills needed to run the show, while also maintaining the skills that have made him a highly regarded prospect in the eyes of some Division I coaches.
“He has the playmaking [ability] and the handle; he has all the skills to play point guard,” South Plains assistant coach Hank Plona said at the showcase. “He just needs to develop the mindset [needed to play the point]. He came in with a scoring mindset, so we had to get him to thinking about ‘making the right play.'”
An event where players are asked to adjust on the fly to teammates they aren’t used to playing with can help in this area, and that was the case for Spight during his time on the floor. While it’s still a work in progress, the environment made Spight more attentive to the details that come with playing the point. That’s one of the positives Spight can take out of the experience, and it’s something that will help him as he prepares for his sophomore season.
“It helps a lot because I’m not sure what anyone’s going to do or what their next move will be,” Spight said. “So it’s up to me to figure that out, and it’s helping me.”
When asked which schools have been the most active in his recruitment, Spight mentioned Arizona State, Creighton, Penn State, Oregon and Tennessee. Head coaches Herb Sendek (Arizona State) and Pat Chambers (Penn State) were in attendance Saturday, with the Sun Devils upping the ante by having their entire coaching staff in the gym during Spight’s first game. The presence of a coach (or coaches) obviously has an impact on recruits, because that’s the best way to gauge a program’s interest regardless of what’s said through text messages or phone calls.
However the most important thing is to take advantage of the opportunity by playing well, something Spight understands.
“I just go play, but when they tell me they’re going to be here I obviously know,” Spight noted. “I just go out there and try to play my game and not try to do too much.”
The task for Spight entering 2014-15 is easy to identify: strengthen his abilities as a point guard while also maintaining the ability to score, as he’ll be asked to spend time at both guard positions at South Plains this season. If Spight proves capable, both team (another trip to Hutch) and individual (a scholarship to a major Division I school) will be well within his reach.