Hoops: Cowboys In On Top Juco Center

In the wild and wacky world of junior college basketball you never know what to expect – even in August, when the season is more than two months away. Just ask Desmond Hendrix, the nation's top ranked junior college center entering the 2006-07 season. That's what GoPokes.com did earlier this week when we visited with the 6-foot-10 Hendrix and Wabash Valley (Ill.) College head coach Dan Sparks.

Hendrix spent the summer working out while preparing for his sophomore season at Wabash Valley in Mt. Carmel, Ill., and was determined to show head coach Toby Madison that he had made a mistake in bringing him off the bench for much of the 2005-06 season.

But Hendrix's world – and the recruitment of the 6-10, 252-pound standout – took a major change a few weeks ago when Madison unexpected resigned and longtime junior college coach Dan Sparks (who compiled a 706-193 record in 26 years at nearby Vincennes University) took over at Wabash Valley.

Hendrix had already narrowed his college choices to four schools – Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh, LSU and UNLV – and was expected to make a decision in the next few months, and sign during the November signing period. But that's no longer the case.

"I've decided I'm going to focus on my academics and make sure that I graduate on time, and then I'll probably make some visits after the season and decide then," Hendrix said. "I am going to take a visit to Oklahoma State."

Sparks prefers that his players wait and sign in the spring. "I've always encouraged that for the simple fact that those kids are here for a reason, and I can also use it as a carrot dangled in front of their nose (to perform better on the court and in the classroom)," said Sparks, a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Hall of Fame.

"I've been talking to him and his mother about it, and I've told him that if he wants to visit two schools early that I don't have a problem with that. He could visit two schools before we start the season, and then visit three more after the season in the spring," Sparks said.

Hendrix only started a handful of games as a freshman last season, averaging around 6.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. His best game of the season was an 8-point, 8-rebound performance against Olney Central on Jan. 7.

Part of the reason he didn't see much playing time may have been because he arrived out of shape, Sparks said. "I only saw him once, and that was last September, before I left (for a job at the University of Northern Colorado) and he probably weighed 350 pounds when he got here," Sparks said. "He was really out of shape, (and) overweight. But he's really slimmed himself down."

Hendrix said earlier this week that he now weighs 252 pounds.

"I've only seen him play twice in pickup games since I've been here but you can tell he's got skills, and he's big," Sparks said. "He's a very nice kid, and he works hard. I think with him the main thing is he's going to have to play hard and get in really good shape."

Hendrix says that isn't going to be a problem. He is one of six sophomores returning from last season's squad, and he expects to be a major contributor for the Warriors this season. "My strength is probably playing with my back to the basket," he says. "I can also shoot the ball from outside. My range is behind the three-point line, but I didn't play enough last year to shoot them. I didn't get the opportunity."

Hendrix says his best move is a hook shot, but knows he needs to develop other ways to score near the basket. "I know I need to get a couple more moves in the post. I have a pretty nice hook shot. Every time I take it it's just me and the rim. I also need to work on my conditioning, and getting in better shape."

Sparks said Hendrix will get the opportunity to score this season. "I'm just letting them play pickup games, and you know how kids are when they play pickup games – no one is looking for him in the post," the Warriors head coach said. "But that'll change once practice starts (Oct. 1). I'm a big guy, and I always like to start the game inside. We'll be looking to get the ball inside to him this season.

"He's going to have to do more than (what he did last season). He's going to have to contribute more than that," Sparks continued. "He's going to have to get 14 to 16 points and 10 to 12 rebounds a game for us. He's got a really nice touch around the basket, but like most kids he needs to be a little more aggressive in the post."

Hendrix, like every other junior college transfer, is looking for a place where he'll be able to play right away. With Oklahoma State losing senior post players Mario Boggan and David Monds after the 2006-07 season, it would make sense that he consider the Cowboys.

"The way they explain it is that I'd be a perfect fit to come in and play right away," said Hendrix, who is being recruiting by Cowboy assistant Kyle Keller. "They want a big man. They're looking for a big man to come in and be a big part of the team.

"I'll be looking at the facilities (on my visits) and also see how their education programs stack up," he continued. "I want to be able to graduate in my two years wherever I go, and I want to know that I will get help to be able to graduate. As far as basketball, it'll be about the coaches and do they help me get better."

Sparks believes that Hendrix will have an impact in Division I somewhere next season. "He's got a bright future ahead of him. It all depends on how hard he works. Everybody tells me that he's a hard worker, and from what I've seen the past few weeks I tend to believe them. He's got a tremendous upside. The best part is he's just a nice kid."

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