by Jakob Perez | Twitter: @JakobPerez
Junior college isn’t usually a high school basketball star’s dream. The experience is notorious for its grueling, no-frills lifestyle revolving entirely around the game of basketball. Players travel to small unknown towns to play in empty arenas, while being in a constant battle with their own teammates to prove that they are the player every Division 1 coach needs on their roster. However, for those up for the challenge this route can provide a fresh start and unleash a world of opportunities.
Junior Colleges such as Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) have produced countless Division 1 players over the years, and even some NBA stars such as Bulls legend Dennis Rodman and Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler. Notable players to emerge from SLCC’s system include BYU’s talented shooting guard Spencer Johnson and former Oregon State Beaver Gary Payton II. Today, freshman wing Jackson Last hopes to add his name to the list of SLCC players to make the leap to the next level.
Last was a star in his Senior year at Hurricane High School, located in Southern Utah. He averaged an eye-popping 23.8 points along with 8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Despite stellar production, he didn’t receive the college offers he was hoping for. Rather than settle for schools that didn’t interest him, Jackson chose to bet on himself, moving up north to attend SLCC.
“The great thing about SLCC was that it was a JUCO and I could go and prove myself and see if I really could play at one of those other [Division 1] programs,” said Last. “It almost gave me a chance to be recruited again.”
A second chance at earning a Division 1 scholarship wasn’t the only factor that made SLCC an attractive destination for Last. He noted that another appealing aspect of SLCC was its big city location. Unlike other junior colleges that are far too often located in tiny rural towns, SLCC provides athletes a bigger platform than what most schools in their league can muster. The Bruins have also differentiated themselves with their style of play on the court. Head Coach Kyle Taylor has inspired his players to buy into the team first mentality. While most junior colleges see vicious competition within the team itself, this isn’t the case at SLCC.
“My favorite thing about SLCC is that Coach Taylor does a really good job,” said Last. “He knows we want to showcase what we can do and it’s going to be competitive. Coach Taylor’s philosophy is that we have 12 or 13 really good guys and if we can all work together we’re going to win a lot of games and showcase what we can do within the team.”
This philosophy has proven to be an effective one as nine of Coach Taylor’s players last season signed with Division 1 programs.
The Bruins enter the 2021 season with high expectations after finishing last year with an impressive 29-4 record in a season where many saw them as favorites to win the NJCAA Championship prior to its cancellation due to COVID-19. This year, SLCC looks to make history by capturing a Regular Season Title, Conference Tournament Title, and the National Championship all in the same year. That is a feat that SLCC nearly accomplished last season before COVID-19 deprived them of their National Tournament bid. 2021’s Bruins feel that the sky’s the limit due to their talent and depth that gives Coach Taylor the flexibility to work in a 12 man rotation. This also means that for this year’s SLCC team to write their name in the history books, every player has to be ready to play at a high level by the season opener on January 15th.
Even during the holiday break, the coaches had their players committed to honing in on their craft. Jackson dedicated himself to making 500 3-pointers a day, an aspect of his game he hopes to improve in order to show that he’s ready for the next level.
“I think I bring a lot to the table with my defense, rebounding, my ability to score at the rim but to really be a complete Division 1 player I need to improve my 3-point percentage so that’s something I work on a lot,” said Last.
He’s hoping to shoot over 40% from deep this season. It he does, it would not only improve his likelihood of landing a scholarship from a major program, but would be an enormous boost in the team’s quest to win all three titles this year.
SLCC’s program seems to have found the perfect balance between showcasing individual talent and playing winning team basketball. The Bruins journey towards history begins this Friday, January 15, 2021 as they compete in the Casper College Tournament.
Photo © Salt Lake Community College Athletics