It’s not hard to see what St. John’s is lacking this year. Shooting, shooting and more shooting.
A quick glance at his statistics — 22.3 points per game while shooting 47.3 percent from 3-point range — and it’s just as easy to see where Vince Cole excels. The junior college preseason All-American from Charleston, S.C., seems like the perfect addition for coach Mike Anderson’s roster.
“I feel like I can really make an impact right away, just because I can shoot the ball well and that’s something St. John’s needs right now,” the 6-foot-5 Johnnies signee said in a phone interview.
Cole is having a big year, leading No. 14 USC-Salkehatchie to a program-record 23 wins and the Region 10 regular-season crown. He’s leading the country in free-throw shooting (91 percent) and is 17th in scoring, while improving as a rebounder and distributor. St. John’s, meanwhile, is last in the Big East in field-goal percentage (.407) and ninth in 3-point percentage (.307), contributing to the Johnnies’ ninth place standing in the league.
USC-Salkehatchie doesn’t play in one of junior college’s premier conferences, but Cole has excelled out of conference against top teams. At the time of his commitment, he chose St. John’s over Oregon State, N.C. State, Fresno State, Illinois State, Buffalo, Coastal Carolina and Akron, among others. But Brendan Walker, the publisher of JUCORecruiting.com, said then a lot of high-major schools were beginning to show interest.
“He would have had plenty [of high-major options],” Walker said. “He checks a lot of boxes. Vince can score it. He’s got that scoring ability like [St. John’s junior] LJ Figueroa had [in junior college]. LJ was stronger and bigger, but Vince is probably a better shooter than LJ was.”
Cole said he doesn’t regret pulling the trigger early. He has a strong bond with Anderson and associate head coach TJ Cleveland, and has known the pair going back to his high school days. He is also very close with fellow St. John’s junior college signee Isaiah Moore of second-ranked Pearl River. He has helped USC-Salkehatchie become a national power this year, reaching a program-best ranking of No. 8 earlier this season.
“I personally believe he’s the best scorer and most complete offensive player in all of junior college,” coach Jake Williams said.
Walker believes it will take longer for Moore to make an impact for St. John’s, but the 6-10 forward’s upside is there. When Walker chose St. John’s, Arkansas, LSU, Alabama and Mississippi State were all involved. At just 205 pounds, he will need to put on weight to bang down low in the Big East. That said, he’s performed well for Pearl River (Miss.), averaging 16.3 points on 55.9 percent shooting from the field, 8.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game for the undefeated Indians (23-0). That includes a 23-point, 12-rebound, four-block, three-steal performance against Jones, Pearl River’s rival.
“He can play inside or out. He’s really been on the block for us and he can step out and make a 3,” Pearl River assistant coach Hayden Sowers said. “He can guard two-through-five. He brings it every game. I don’t know if he’s had a bad game since we got back from Christmas break.”
The other two members of the recruiting class, high school seniors Posh Alexander and Dylan Wusu, are having strong seasons as well, teaming up for Our Savior Lutheran in The Bronx. They’ve led Lutheran to a 31-3 record entering Wednesday’s regular-season finale ahead of the Greater Atlantic Conference playoffs next week. After that, Lutheran will take part in the Grind Session National Championship where it could meet Prolific Prep (Calif), which is ranked 12th in the country by Max Preps.
Alexander, a 6-foot point guard from Brooklyn, was the bigger name, but Wusu has emerged after signing with St. John’s, averaging 19 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. He’s a big guard, 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, and is now rated as a consensus three-star recruit. One college coach familiar with Wusu thinks he will be a solid four-year player for St. John’s because of his ability to defend guards and wings and his shot-making ability. Another coach is a fan of Wusu’s strength and toughness and believes both players will excel in Anderson’s up-tempo style that will optimize their athleticism.
Lutheran coach Pete Wehye said Wusu has developed more offensively this season, being able to create his own shot, and has even run the team when Alexander has been off the floor. As for Alexander, he has rebounded from a broken arm that cost him most of last season to have a strong year, averaging 18 points, eight assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. In one of Lutheran’s biggest wins of the year, over powerhouse Putnam Science Academy (Conn.), he scored 38 points while going up against Texas A&M signee Hassan Diarra.
“The comeback season,” Wehye said. “He really put in the hard work. I tell everybody last year was the most humbling experience for him.”