The junior college ranks haven't been kind to Rick Pitino in his time at Louisville. In 12 seasons as the Cardinals' coach, Pitino has recruited five JUCO players; three transferred after a year or less, one went pro shortly after signing and one stayed two years.
The four players have played in 119 total games, though none averaged more than six points per game. And the one player who stayed two years, Kendall Dartez, accounted for 60 of those games played.
Pitino hasn’t been keen on junior college talent in the last eight years. Not that he's needed it. That's evident by the success of his recent teams, with Peyton Siva being a perfect example. Enroll young, grow and develop. Transfers like Luke Hancock and David Padgett have come in, and there hasn't been a need for JUCOs.
Until this season. Enter point guard Chris Jones, who might be Pitino's most highly touted -- and most productive -- JUCO yet.
By all accounts, Jones isn't like the previous junior college players to play for Pitino. Last season’s national junior college player of the year, Jones was initially headed to Tennessee until Bruce Pearl was fired. Jones opted for Northwest Florida State College to play for former Pearl assistant Steve Forbes, now an assistant at Wichita State.
The past isn’t always a good indicator for college basketball and the best coaches have adapted to their needs. Jones will be asked to replace Siva, whether he likes it or not. With his skill set, Jones will be the key cog in Pitino’s full-court press. On offense, Jones is the natural heir to run Pitino's high-powered offense, with incoming freshman Terry Rozier serving as his understudy.
Jones is fast, agile and is quick and aggressive on defense. He's going to be asked to come into the program and start immediately. He’s a plug-and-play recruit that is in Siva’s mold — both averaged around five assists per game last season and thrive off their anticipation and lateral defensive quickness — and has slightly better range (Jones hit 32.1 percent from three-point range last season in junior college, compared to Siva's 28.8). Jones isn’t just a quick fix, he's a scorer and has a natural instinct to attack.
That's not to say that junior college success translates. Jones is a big-time scorer in junior college at 21.8 points per game last season. Nate Daniels, who came in for one season in 2003-04, averaged over 28 points per game at Broward County (Fla.) Community College and left after a 5.6-point, 1.6-rebound year.
But Jones is a high-level Division I talent. Much like Nouha Diakite, a high-level recruit at Barton County (Kan.) Community College in 2003-04. He left Louisville after 19 games to pursue a professional career. That’s not to say Jones will do that. In fact, it probably won't happen. It’s safe to say that junior college recruit No. 6 for the Pitino era at Louisville is a safer bet than the first five.