Posted On: 04/30/18 8:19 PM
In today’s here today gone tomorrow high school and college hoops culture, in which the transfer rate is unprecedented and new records charting the furious pace of transfers are being set hourly, nothing ceases to surprise us anymore.
And so one story about a prolific scoring 6-foot-5 guard uprooting himself from rough and tumble Lawrence, Mass. to Central Florida appears about as meaningful as the 7,000 others regarding 11th hour transfers.
For St. John’s-commit L.J. Figueroa, however, the transformation from seldom-used backup to prodigious schoolboy talent goes far beyond the traditional headline.
After playing sparingly at Lawrence High in Massachusetts, Figueroa developed a fierce work ethic and multi-positional approach while at Oldsmar Christian of the vaunted SIAA conference.
He became self-reliant, prioritizing his time in the gym, devoting himself to a player development regimen and developing a real knack for scoring the ball in a variety of ways.
Savoring the killer instinct, Figueroa developed deep 3-point shooting ability and a craftiness in getting to and around the rim.
He incorporated a combo guard’s skill set, facilitating more than ever.
During Figueroa’s time under Kenny Gillion at West Oaks Academy in Orlando, Figueroa flourished as a go-to source while developing into a reliable defensive presence.
Wall to wall defense and 94 feet of thorough pressure isn’t just emphasized at West Oaks Academy–it’s preached with an iron fist.
Figueroa’s stock improved drastically when he out-performed more highly ranked, highly regarded players on significant stages.
He initially committed to New Mexico State under Paul Weir, a prized recruit at that level.
When Weir enriched himself a bit more during a shuffle from NMSU to University of New Mexico, Figueroa opted to re-open his recruitment.
He wound up at Odessa Community College in the uber-competitive WJCAC conference in NJCAA Region 5.
Shooting the ball with more consistency and emerging into a scalding-hot high efficiency threat, Figueroa averaged a team-best 21.4 PPG on a 55 percent clip from the floor. He shot near 50 percent from beyond the arc.
“L.J. was shooting 63 percent from the floor at one point, he’s gone under the radar as the best wing in the country for too long,” said former Oldsmar head coach (now at Superior Collegiate Academy in Clearwater, Fla.) Alex Arias, an instrumental figure in Figueroa’s development since the JUCO All-American first began playing basketball.
“It is New York City. It’s Madison Square Garden every night. It was a no brainer. St. John’s was the fit he needed. I think it was the fit of how good Matt (Abdelmassah) was recruiting L.J. and them really understanding his situation that led him to St. John’s. I know the Dominican community in New York had something to do with it as well. He and his mother had dinner with (former Dominican wunderkind and St. John’s poster boy) Felipe Lopez and that was really a special experience for him.”
Figueroa scored 26 points on a smoking 11-for-13 clip during a thorough 103-88 throttling of Scottsdale Community College.
He erupted for 38 points on 26 shots during a 94-84 win over New Mexico Military Institute back in January, fighting through double teams and junk defenses.
As he did during his breakout campaign at Oldsmar Christian his junior year, Figueroa played possessed at times.
He caught an insatiable hunger for buckets and never relinquished the hot hand. Partly at the fact that not everyone recruiting Figueroa knew he was only doing one year of junior college and not two, he flew under the radar until the spring.
Baylor was in active pursuit, but in the end St. John’s role for him and location were persuasive factors.
At St. John’s, he’ll have new challenges cooking on his front burner. Program poster boy Shamorie Ponds is testing the NBA draft waters at the moment, albeit all signs point to him potentially returning to the program.
While the Johnnies displayed flashes this past season with wins over Villanova and Duke, they’ve been marred by bouts of inconsistency.
Arias said the challenge of putting a program like St. John’s back into national prominence is a challenge tailor cut for Figueroa.
“Remember I said it, Duke on ESPN or a game of that magnitude — he will show out,” Arias said. “He scored 30 points against Huntington Prep (W.V.). He had 30+ against Windermere Prep and David Nickelberry. He had a 35 point game in which he didn’t miss a shot in high school. You just don’t see that too often. He relishes the big stage, the big moment.”
A tactical wing with a game that’s more predicated on smarts than finesse and athleticism, Figueroa’s road to success has been far from straight.
Yet on this unpredictable campus to campus odyssey from Massachusetts to Florida to Texas and now New York (with a pass through in New Mexico), Figueroa has embraced the workload and jumped at the challenge each step of the way.
This is what truly differentiates him from today’s quintessential transfer.
Especially in an out of control transfer season, in which delusional and frustrated and entitled kids run from any adversity without nary a glance in the rearview.
Marlon Taylor, Panola
It’s hard to believe that one of the nation’s sleeper recruits now headed to LSU has only been playing basketball for five years. That’s why Marlon Taylor’s story is so unique. A product of the hoops hotbed known as Mount Vernon (N.Y.), Taylor only played one year of high school basketball under legendary head coach Bob Cimmino.
After a post-graduate at Forest Trails Academy in North Carolina, Panola scooped up the upside heavy recruit and molded him into a multi-dimensional 6-foot-6 forward capable of guarding the 1-4.
Taylor averaged 17 points on 50 percent field goal shooting and 9.5 boards a game.
Nathan Johnson, On Point Academy
The 6-foot sharpshooter from Liverpool, England is a major get at the next level of play. He would be an ideal pickup at the JUCO or NAIA level. Johnson showed his consistent 3-point stroke and rugged guard skill set during the Battlegrounds Elite showcase tournament this weekend in Memphis.
Chris Whitaker, Scotland Campus Sports
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard is a bullish and long prospect who has a scoring toolset at all three levels. A sterling performance during an upset victory over IMG Academy (FL) during the National Prep Showcase was indicative of what Whitaker could be when pushed.
This weekend in Memphis, he showed a hard-attacking style and effective rebounding at the guard position. He’s a unique prospect because of his strength and athleticism.
Isaac Jurecky, Scotland Campus Sports
The Australian product is 6-foot-6 with a smooth stroke from beyond the arc. He proved that during the aformentioned Battlegrounds elite event this weekend in Memphis. He drilled four consecutive 3-pointers at one point, with a sea of college coaches taking notice.
Jurecky would be a three-four type at the JUCO level. He’s got some upside and a unique ability to create mismatch headaches because of his long range shooting.
DJ McQuarter, Believe Prep Academy
The 6-foot-7 wing did a little bit of everything this weekend in Memphis. He showed a comfortable handle and ability to put the ball on the deck and make plays. He displayed high level athleticism with his above the rim game. He posted up, scored on hustle buckets and even knocked down some deep 3-pointers.
While he must pack on muscle to a spindly 175-pound frame, he’s got the potential to be a three or a four with a guard/wing’s skill set at the JUCO level.