JCJC's Zuppardo signs with Mississippi State University
April 21, 2014
By Shawn Wansley
JCJC Sports Information Director
ELLISVILLE – For Jones County Junior College’s Johnny Zuppardo, it’s all about the Southeastern Conference.
“Even in high school, I’ve always dreamed of playing in the SEC,” said Zuppardo, a 6-foot-9 forward who signed Wednesday with Mississippi State University. “This is truly a blessing. In my past with the schools I’ve been to, it’s been a humbling experience and it taught me a lot. It got me to where I am today.”
It’s been quite a ride for Zuppardo.
He played high school basketball at St. Stanislaus College before signing with Arkansas State University, who was coached by ex-LSU head coach John Brady. After seeing limited time as a freshman with the Red Wolves, Zuppardo transferred to Southern Miss for the 2012-13 season, which was head coach Donnie Tyndall’s first-year with the Golden Eagles.
After sitting out that season, Zuppardo transferred to JCJC where was reunited with Jay Ladner, who was his head coach at St. Stanislaus.
The 2013-14 season turned out to be a magical one for the Bobcats, as they captured their first-ever NJCAA Division I men’s basketball championship, winning the tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., in March and finishing the year with a 28-5 record.
“I want to thank Jones for bringing me in and letting me play basketball. This is a great institution and they do expect greatness,” Zuppardo said. “I also want to thank Coach Ladner for giving me the opportunity to play here and I want to thank all of my teammates. I would not be signing this scholarship today if it wasn’t for my teammates.
“I want to thank my family and friends who supported me and believed in me the whole way.”
Zuppardo averaged 15.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game for the national champion Bobcats this season. He shot 62.7 percent from the floor, 43.1 percent from the 3-point line and 76.1 percent from the free throw line.
It was Zuppardo’s 3-pointer at the buzzer in the Region 23 Tournament semifinals that lifted the Bobcats to a stunning, 73-72 win over East Mississippi that propelled the team to the nationals.
Zuppardo shined in the national tournament where he was named to the All-Tournament Team and helped the Bobcats win five games in five days.
In the Bobcats’ 81-79 first round win over Highland Community College (Ill.), he had 15 points and seven rebounds. In a 91-82 victory over Hill College (Texas) in round two, he had 32 points and eight rebounds. In an 86-79 victory over Chipola College (Fla.) in the quarterfinals, he had 19 points and six rebounds. In a 76-63 win over Vincennes College (Ind.) in the semifinals, he had 21 points and six rebounds.
In the 87-77 championship victory over top-ranked Indian Hills Community College (Iowa), Zuppardo had 10 points and seven rebounds.
With each Bobcat victory in the tournament, more and more senior colleges became interested in Zuppardo.
“At the national tournament when I heard all of those schools were interested, I tried my absolute best to block it all off and stay focused on strictly winning the championship,” he said. “It was kind of hard because schools were coming in after every game and it was a distraction. But I stayed focused and Coach Ladner got me focused.
“We had a goal and we were not going to leave Hutchinson until we had won a national championship. We would have won eight games if we had to, but we were going to win it all.”
The Bobcats practiced one day at Wichita State University while at the national tournament. The Shockers would eventually offer Zuppardo a scholarship.
St. Bonaventure called Zuppardo and offered him as the Bobcat team was traveling to the State Capitol in Jackson to be honored by state government officials four days after winning the NJCAA title.
The University of Washington, Tulane, Kent State and Iona were among schools that made offers to Zuppardo, but he elected to sign with Mississippi State after taking an official visit to Starkville this past weekend. He canceled an upcoming visit to Washington.
“It was a pretty tough decision,” Zuppardo said. “I prayed and made the most logical decision for me and I did the best thing for myself. I wanted my family to have a chance to see me play. I want to be able to come watch Jones play or just go home when I have a chance. It’s not too far away and it’s in the SEC. I’ll be able to play against great players and great teams and I cannot wait.”
There were other factors in Zuppardo’s decision.
The Bulldogs are coming off a 14-19 season and are looking for immediate help, especially on the inside.
Zuppardo, who can play with his back to the basket, as well as shoot the 3-point shot, is an excellent fit for the Bulldogs.
Zuppardo praised Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray and assistant coach Chris Hollender and how they handled the recruiting process.
“There are many reasons why I signed with Mississippi State,” he said. “First, I really appreciated how their coaches waited on getting me. I liked how they were honest with me. They were straight up with me. There was no confusion with anything. It was just a comfortable situation with the coaches and myself.
“I also picked the school because it was a place where I felt I could be successful. The players at the school are very talented and they have a lot of players coming back. Their guys seem ready and they want to win. It seemed like I could go in and help them.”
Zuppardo had a chance to meet with the returning Bulldog basketball players on his official visit.
“Seeing those players and how good they are – it’s one of the many reasons I’m going to State,” he said. “Their potential and what they can be gets me all fired up and so excited. I want to keep interacting with the team and see how everybody’s personalities on the floor come together.
“To get back on the Division I level – I just cannot wait for it. It’s a blessing to sign with Mississippi State and I thank Coach Ray and Coach Hollender for giving me this opportunity.”
Zuppardo, who was named All-Region 23, to the All-Region 23 Tournament team and to the All-MACJC South Division first-team, still has one more game to play in representing JCJC.
He will participate in the NJCAA Men’s Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Game at 3:30 p.m. on May 10 at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.
“That, too, is a blessing,” Zuppardo said. “Just to be picked to play among the best juco players in the nation is awesome. I am proud to represent Jones and my family and my coaches. I can’t wait to get out there and showcase my talents.”
For more on the All-Star game, go to www.jcbca.weebly.com.
Johnny Zuppardo of the national champion Jones County Junior College basketball team signs with Mississippi State University.
Photo/Shawn Wansley, JCJC Sports Information Director