Chipola Remains an Oasis on the JUCO Landscape
By Tony Jimenez
To hear some of those in the know tell it, the golden
days of the two-year schools is history.
Toast. Kaput. No more.
Given what's been transpiring at Chipola College in
Marianna, FL. - a small, diverse southern town of some 17,000 - in
recent years nothing could be further from the truth.
Ever since coach Greg Heiar set foot on campus four
years ago, everything that he's touched has turned to gold.
From his only season as an assistant coach to coach
Chris Jans - when the two took the Indians to the 2003-04 National JC
Athletic Association tournament and came home with a sixth place and a
32-5 record - to this season's team, which amassed a 33-3 record after
ending their season runner-up in the National Tournament.
Chipola is becoming the North Carolina of the national
junior college ranks. In Heiar's three-season run as head coach, Chipola
has a 95-11 record.
Even more impressive is that fact that the Indians, for
the most part, have demolished anything that's come their way.
Chipola has claimed eleven wins by at least 20 points
and four by at least 30 points and has shown its resiliency in close
games, winning nine games in single digits.
"Our size and our collective basketball IQ has made us
difficult to defend," Heiar said. "We have 30 to 35 sets that we run on
offense, and we rely on the man but have been pressing and zoning more
defensively. I am just happy to be at a place I can have success like
this. From the president (Dr. Gene Prough) to the athletic director (Dr.
Dale O'Daniel) to the faculty, there is support everywhere for the
It has definitely made a difference.
Heiar is recruiting players who are putting team first
and keep their acts clean on and off the floor - 17 of 19 players having
graduated in the last three years. He has sent 17 players to Division I
schools, including Mario Boggan of Oklahoma State, Je'Kel Foster of Ohio
State, Stefhon Hannah of Missouri and Michael Taylor of Iowa State. All
have had good seasons and been sensational at times, ala Boggan and his
mind-boggling 37-point, 20-rebound game that included the game-winning
shot against Texas.
"It means a lot to have our guys go on and do well,"
Heiar said. "A lot of people say it takes a juco player a semester to
adjust to a four-year school, but you can't tell it by what those guys
have done. When those guys do as well as they have, it gives you a sense
that you are doing thighs the right way, that you are getting them
prepared for the next level."
Picture Boggan, Hannah, and Taylor on the same team -
it's what Heiar had at hand in his first season at Chipola, in 2004-05 -
and it's easy to see why Heiar might have needed more than one
basketball on the floor and a shrink off the floor.
That, however, hasn't been the case under the feisty 32
Heiar doesn't expound on what he's done, only on what he
could have done and what he can still do. The guy has the mind of a more
experienced coach and is crafty enough to not only lure talented players
to Chipola, but put them in the right places and instill team play first
Heiar learned plenty from Jans when the two were at
Kirkwood, Iowa, an NJCAA Division II school that made its first-ever
appearance in the national tournament in 1995-96 with Heiar as a
player/team captain and Jans as the head coach.
"He was a coach on the floor back then," said Jans. "He
was a competitor, a hard worker, who was so passionate about what he was
doing. I'm not surprised at what he has done. You've got to have the
players first, and he gets them. Then he does a tremendous job of
instilling his personality into his team."
Chipola's 13-player roster is comprised mostly of
players from Chicago (four) and Florida (three). Stars JaMarcus Ellis,
an ultra-talented 6-foot-6, 195-pounder, and DeAndre Thomas, a rugged
6-8, 290-pounder, and 6-8, 250-pound starter Johnnie Harris are from the
It's no surprise that Kelvin Sampson, a guy who has a
propensity of knowing and getting the max out of juco players, has lured
both players, Ellis and Thomas, to Indiana next season.
"JaMarcus is having a great year," Heiar said. "He is a
relentless leader who shares the ball and makes everyone around him so
much better. Our players have a sense of confidence when he is on the
Ellis spend a week at Laurinburg, N.C. Prep before
leaving because he wasn't happy. "It was in the middle of nowhere, and I
didn't know anyone," he said. He went to Chipola sight unseen. He
arrived based primarily on what his Chicago buddies told him about
Heiar, the program, and the school itself.
"What I've done here is going to help me a lot next
year," Ellis said. "The coaches and program have prepared me well for
where I'm going. Going to a junior college hasn't been a step backwards
at all for me. I'm learning more than I could have anywhere else."
Ellis (18.2 ppg, 10.7 rpb, 7.6 apg) and Thomas (15.1 ppg,
10.2 rpg) are far from the whole story at Chipola. Harris, point guard
Ed Berrios and Victor Dubovitsky, a native of Moscow have added a
variety of talents.
Ditto for key reserves Michael Vogler, who signed with
Troy University; 6'3 Mario Edwards; 6'5 Mario Little of Chicago; 6'2
Eric Price of Washington D.C.; and 6'0 Skyler Williams of East Dublin,
All of the starters are sophomores, and the next five
Which means that Chipola has even more golden days on