The most promising team in the history of the conference and region, PRCC earned the top seed in the NJCAA National Tournament at Hutchinson Community College before the world came screeching to a halt.
St. John’s commit Isaih Moore, a Third-Team All-American, couldn’t believe what he was hearing from his coach during the team’s final meeting of the season.
“Everybody had bought in,” said Moore. “It was our goal, it was our plan to finish 32-0 and when it got cut short like that it hit us, like it’s always going to be a what-if?”
Moore wasn’t the only future Johnnie to have a dream junior college season stopped suddenly in its tracks. About 700 miles away in Allendale, South Carolina, Vince Cole had USC Salkehatchie peaking at the right time.
A two-time Region X Player of the Year and two-time NJCAA All-American, Cole had led the Indians to a 27-4 record, Section X regular season and tournament titles, and the seventh-seed in the NJCAA National Tournament.
“We were in the gym and our coach came in and said ‘we just got the news we’re not playing,’” recalled Cole. “Everybody was in shock, in disbelief. I was at a loss for words. It didn’t seem real.”
Both Moore and Cole acknowledged that the cancelation was made worse by the fact that both of their schools were enjoying their best seasons in program history.
“Salk had never done that before,” said Cole about his team’s unprecedented success. “We thought we were going to take it all the way, and for it to get shut down like that without having a chance, it was just heartbreaking. It was really sad because we were really a team. We were brothers.”
Moore, in his first season at Pearl River, didn’t take long to figure out that this year was something his coaches and teammates had been waiting for.
“My teammates, because most of them are from Mississippi, they would always talk about how hard it is to get Mississippi noticed, to get us on the map,” said Moore, who played his freshman year at the College of Charleston and hails from Columbia, out Carolina.
“It meant more to me because those kids don’t always get looked at,” he added. “So for us to be the number one seed in the country, it brought attention to everybody. Our coach told us that we turned Pearl River into a powerhouse just in that one season.”
With the dream of raising a trophy at Hutch now extinguished, Cole and Moore began looking forward to the next phase of their basketball careers, one that will bring the pair to Queens under the direction of coach Mike Anderson.
Cole was a commodity that had been on the radar of the Red Storm coaching staff long before any of them stepped foot in Carnesecca Arena. Recruited by associate head coach T.J. Cleveland out of high school, Cole didn’t have to wait long for before getting a call from the newly minted Red Storm staff last spring.
“Coach Cleveland and I were talking since high school and my freshman summer at Salk,” said Cole. “They called me and said we want you to be our first recruit. It was a really strong relationship, we’d talk for hours some days.”
A quick glance at Cole’s junior college numbers offer a glimpse into why the staff made Cole an early priority. As a freshman, he garnered Second Team All-America honors after averaging 18.7 points per game on 47.4 percent shooting from the floor, including a 44.1 percent showing from beyond the arc.
He also sank his free throws at an 86.8 percent clip and grabbed 6.2 rebounds per outing. This past season, Cole was the only player in NJCAA Division I to find a spot in the ultra-exclusive 50-40-90 club, shooting 51.8 percent from the field, 44.6 percent from three and 90.1 percent from the charity stripe.
He averaged 21.4 points per game, good enough for 22nd in the nation.
“It doesn’t matter what level we’re talking about, Vince can put the ball in the basket plain and simple,” said Anderson. “His natural scoring ability should help us right away.”
Moore first heard from the St. John’s staff this past summer when Red Storm assistant Steve DeMeo, who has extensive ties in the junior college community, came to see him play.
Before long, DeMeo had brought the rest of his St. John’s colleagues along with him, and they were convinced that Moore could contribute right away in the Big East.
“Coach Anderson kept talking to me about what he was going to bring to St. John’s, the vision he had,” said Moore. “I knew the history of the schools he had been at, I told him the vision I had, what I was looking for in a school and he offered those things.”
In his one season of junior college action, Moore averaged a near double-double by posting 15.9 points on 54.3 percent shooting to go along with 9.1 boards per outing.
Six of his 12 double-doubles came in the final nine games of the season and he made 79.1 percent of his free throw attempts, an above-average output for a 6-foot-10 big man.
“Isaih can certainly give us an instant boost up front and will make a significant impact on both ends of the court,” said Anderson. “He’s a highly versatile player who really opens the floor with his inside-out play.”
Neither Cole nor Moore was a tough sell when it came to playing in New York.
Cole, who had been to New York several times for AAU tournaments, is on the verge of fulfilling a lifelong dream.
“I’ve always loved New York,” said Cole. “It’s the mecca of basketball. Growing up, every kid wants to play in Rucker Park, every kid wants to play at Madison Square Garden.”
Moore, on the other hand, had never been to the Big Apple before his official visit this past fall.
“New York was everything like in the movies: the tall buildings, the noise, the food,” said Moore. “Madison Square Garden was like nothing I’d ever seen before in my life.”
Anderson, himself a product of the junior college ranks, boasts a long history of recruiting NJCAA standouts and knows what a difference that experience can make at the highest ranks.
“Vince and Isaih are both coming off very successful seasons and played key roles in helping to lead their teams to a lot of wins this past year,” said Anderson. “Winning is part of certain players’ DNA, so we are thrilled to have these guys join our program next season and contribute to a winning culture at St. John’s.”
Editor’s Note: This article was provided by the Athletic Department at St. John’s University.