RECENT PRODUCTS: Cory Brewer (1997-98), Aaron McGhee (2001-02), Ebi Ere (2002-03), Taj Gray (2005-06)
We are dealing with college basketball's prototypes here, not its stereotypes. So if you're still hung up on the classic, negative connotations associated with junior college transfers -- if you're of the belief, perhaps, that every last one of them is a troubled mercenary -- then you haven't been watching Oklahoma. The Sooners will be aiming for the 2005 Big 12 title with a quartet of players who did not go directly from high school to a four-year college, and coach Kelvin Sampson is not in the business of running a halfway house: He presides over the pipeline of OU Juco Stars, and its latest product, 6-foot-9, 238-pound Taj Gray, is the antithesis of the bad-juco stereotype.
"That kid would run through a wall if you asked him to," Sampson says of Gray, a hard-nosed forward who averaged 14.6 points and 8.2 rebounds in his first season in Norman after transferring from Redlands (Okla.) Community College, and was tabbed the 2005 Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year. Gray emerged from Redlands with a tireless work ethic, and says he's "blessed for the opportunity" to play for OU -- a sentiment that, Sampson believes, is becoming increasingly difficult to find in today's big-time high-school recruits. "There's a humbleness to [a lot of juco players], in that they've already learned to give back -- they're not just taking all the time," Sampson says. "They've been through tough practices and long bus rides. They've lived off the No. 2 meal at McDonald's. They're not used to fine china; they're used to eating out of a bag."