When it comes to basketball recruiting hotspots, west Texas is seldom mentioned in the same breath as New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, North Carolina, or even Dallas/Fort Worth. On the contrary, Lubbock and surrounding environs, as far as the eye can see, are viewed as a basketball desert. And for this reason, among others, the job of coaching the Texas Tech Red Raiders is usually regarded as a difficult one. It's just not that easy to amass Big 12 talent at a school where the nearest bundle of quality recruits is over 300 miles away, and the next closest after that, is almost double the distance.
But the recruiting dry hole that is west Texas high school basketball conceals a potential gusher waiting to be tapped. And no fracking needed! For while the area surrounding Texas Tech is largely bereft of high school blue chippers, it is also arguably the heartland of junior college basketball in the United States of America.
Within a 230-mile radius of the city of Lubbock, there are no less that 10 men's junior college basketball programs, and several of them are perennially among the nation's best. That's right. Lubbock is literally the epicenter of an area featuring South Plains College (Levelland), Frank Phillips College (Borger), Clarendon College (Clarendon), Western Texas College (Snyder), Howard College (Big Spring), Midland College (Midland), Odessa College (Odessa), Ranger College (Ranger), New Mexico Military Institute (Roswell) and New Mexico Junior College (Hobbs).
With the exception of Ranger College, all of those programs play in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference, which, if not the ACC of junior college basketball, is at least the Big East.
Residing at the center of this fertile junior college proving ground is the equivalent of being located in a metropolitan area of one million people. Every year the schools noted above crank out multiple D1 prospects, and many of them have gone on to play in the NBA. Paul Pressey, Larry Johnson, Craig Ehlo, Rodney Dent, Moochie Norris, Riley Smith, Lewis Lloyd, Charlie Criss, Harold Wright and Avery Johnson are among the local JUCO alumni who have gone on to play the game at its highest level.
And many top college basketball programs have dipped into this deep well to replenish their own talent. A partial list of those schools includes Ole Miss, Cal, Nebraska, BYU, Iowa State, Marquette, Texas A&M, Gonzaga, Houston, Oklahoma State, TCU, Kansas, UNLV, Ohio State, Purdue, Cincinnati, Texas, Washington State, St. John's, LSU, Washington, Xavier, Mississippi State, Arizona State, Tennessee, Minnesota, West Virginia, Auburn, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Baylor, Illinois, New Mexico, Memphis and Southern Cal.
Clearly, the talent is there, and programs all across the country avail themselves of it. Perhaps the time has come for Texas Tech under new coach Tubby Smith to make the JUCOs of this area, if not recruiting priority number one, perhaps priority 1B.
Not that Tech hasn't plumbed the local JUCOs on occasion. Tech has signed Mario Layne, Nick Okorie, David Tairu, Nate Jackson, Mike Russell, Marshall Taylor, Charlie Burgess, Cleveland Phelps, Charles Johnson, Todd Duncan, Dewayne Chism, Ty Nurse, Damon Roberts, Curtis Marshall, and most recently, Robert Turner from these schools. That is 15 players, which may seem like a lot, but that number spans a period of 37 years. It comes out to less than one player every other recruiting season.
Given the JUCO talent that exists in this area, its close proximity to Lubbock, and the de facto habituation to the unique west Texas culture that occurs while these players are at the local JUCOs, it is hardly unreasonable to think that Tech could sign at least one prime local JUCO recruit per season. Doing so would salt away a quarter to a third of Tech's recruiting class per season and leave ample opportunity to still load up on high school talent abroad. This is an approach whose time has come.