Knowing that they need to add some perimeter play and scoring to a 2013 recruiting class that has landed a pair of big guys, Arkansas' coaches will head to the National Junior College Athletic Association this week in Hutchinson, Kan.
They will be closely watching at least two players in New Mexico College guard Desmond Lee (6-4, 195) and former Searcy standout and current Lee College star Jamal Jones (6-8, 190) and are also known to have some interest in Connors State (OK) point guard Hakeem Harris (6-2, 180).
Jones, who originally signed with Ole Miss before transferring to Lee at mid-semester of his freshman season after being suspended for a violation of team rules, will be in action first when his 20th-seeded Runnin' Rebels (25-10) battle 13th-seeded Howard Monday at 4:30 p.m.
"He is a a legit 6-8 now and has turned into a player like (former Razorback star) Todd Day and (former Memphis star) Penny Hardaway," Lee head coach Roy Champagne said. "He may look like a stretch four, but he is a skilled perimeter player that can play the one, two and three and guard all three of those positions."
Jones is averaging 17.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 35 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
"He is veery, very gifted and has just gotten better in every area since he got here," Champagne said.
Jones had 28 points to lead second-seeded Lee – located in Baytown, Texas - over second-seeded Navarro 92-77 in the Region 14 championship game and was named the MVP of the event.
He started the tournament by hitting a 3-pointer with 3.7 seconds left to lead Lee over Blinn Junior College 76-73 and then had 25 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds to lead the Runnin' Rebels over Jacksonville (101-96).
Lee then beat top-seeded Kilgore (78-63) to get to the championship game.
"He can really shoot the ball – and that includes 3-pointers – and is just a match-up problem for everyone we play," Champaign added. "He has grown a couple of inches and really developed his all-around game since he arrived here. He has carried us here late."
This season's event has been changed from a 16-team, double-elimination format to a 24-team, single-elimination one.
That's just fine with Champagne, who is taking his program to the national tournament for the first time.
"Obviously this is my first trip there, but I can tell you that is the kind of format that our guys and I prefer is the single-elimination one," Champaign said. "We don't want to play in anything but the championship game. We don't want to be playing for sixth place or ninth place or any of those other games besides the one for it all."
Jones, who told the Baytown Sun that he was very interested in coming back to Arkansas, has offers from Texas A&M, West Virginia, San Diego State and TCU.
"He loves the state of Arkansas," Champagne said.
Jones is taking the process slow and has not visited any schools yet.
"I'm not going to decide anything until April," Jones told the Baytown Sun. "I will take my visits after my season is over."
Champagne likes that attitude of Jones, who averaged 23 points, six rebounds and three blocks as a senior for Searcy and then chose Ole Miss over Arkansas State and UALR among others.
"His goal is to finish off the season the right way and then worry about recruiting after that," Champagne said. "That's the kind of mentality that he has had all season."
As for Jones' dismissal at Ole Miss, Champagne says that Jones has grown up and is on the right path now.
"Guys come to junior college for a reason – and that's because they are deficient in some area whether it be grades, maturity or whatever," Champagne said. "I can tell you that Jamal got here, played the second semester of last year for us and has grown both mentally, physically and emotionally. He's now ready to make that next step."
o o o
Desmond Lee and eighth-seeded New Mexico (27-6) will play Tuesday at 4:30 p.m against the winner of Monday's Northwest Florida State and University of South Carolina-Salkehatchie game.
Lee is averaging 20.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game game.
Harris and 19th-seed Connors State (24-8) match up with 14th-seed Motlow (Tenn.) State (25-3) Tuesday morning at 10 a.m.
The National Stage
Hawgs Daily Top Stories
Scout On the Road: SeptemberScout takes a look at some of the top prospects we saw in person during the month of September...
Scout FootballWednesday at 2:00 PM
Longhorns Preview Oklahoma StateTexas offensive players discuss the Longhorns' upcoming game at Oklahoma State to kickoff Big 12 Conference play.
Horns DigestMonday at 6:21 PM
Louisiana CB 'Real Close' to a DecisionIt may not be too long before one of the top cornerbacks in Louisiana makes his decision. Four schools are high on his list and you can get the latest here...
Scout FootballMonday at 6:15 AM
JC defensive back talks ISU official visitOver the weekend, Iowa State played host to one of their top 2017 targets in the current recruiting cycle in Paramount, CA three-star JUCO CB Keisean Nixon. This visit for the…
AllCyclonesSunday at 6:34 PM