OTTUMWA — Lester Medford is no stranger to the Lone Star state.
He may be listed as a native of Tucson, Arizona, but Medford spent many of his formidable years as a youth growing up in the capital city of Texas.
“I actually lived in Austin, Texas throughout middle school,” Medford said. “Even a little bit of elementary school.”
Medford’s choice of a four-year school on Wednesday ensures he’ll be making a return to the home of the Texas Longhorns. Aside from family and friends, however, the reception might not be all that warm inside the Frank Erwin Center.
Because when Medford plays at Texas next year, he’ll be doing so donning Baylor green and gold. The Indian Hills sophomore guard inked his letter of intent to play just over 100 miles north of Austin in Waco, Texas, for the Bears and head coach Scott Drew Wednesday afternoon at the Hellyer Student Life Center in Ottumwa.
“That’ll be a good game to face (Texas),” Medford said with a smile after finalizing his four-year college choice. “It’s a chance to be close my mom and my little brother, my cousins and aunts. I just decided to go back to Texas and play there (over the next two years).”
“I think his hard work is paying off. He’s got a bright future both here (at Indian Hills) and there (at Baylor),” IHCC head basketball coach Barret Peery added.
The choice of Baylor gives Medford a chance to continue a recent trend of success that junior college transfers, and in particularly guards, have had with the Bears. Pierre Jackson, a former JUCO Player of the Year at the College of Southern Idaho, recently completed two successful years as a starter for Baylor’s 2012 "Elite Eight" team and on the Bears squad that defeated Iowa for the NIT Championship last spring.
“Baylor has been very successful with junior college guards that can play multiple positions and play very fast,” Indian Hills head coach Barret Peery said of the choice. “I think it’s a very good fit for Lester.”
Medford is well aware of the success a player like Jackson had last year. The IHCC guard sees his game translating in the same, successful way at Baylor.
“They’ve had a lot of success with JUCO point guards, so I think it’s a good fit for me,” Medford said. “Knowing that (Jackson) made it from where he’s come from, it has set the bar for something that I can look forward to next year.”
Perhaps no Warrior player has had a smoother transition to life in Indian Hills maroon and gold on the floor than Medford, who leads IHCC with 17.6 points per game through the first five games of this season. The former Arizona Western guard also leads the Warriors with 3.6 steals and is second behind fellow sophomore Roderick Bobbitt in assists at 5.4 per game, pacing the fourth-highest scoring offense in JUCO basketball with the Warriors averaging 111.8 points per game.
Baylor, currently ranked 20th by the Associated Press, has gained a reputation under Drew for being a team that can create matchup problems with its athletic guard play. If his sophomore season thus far at IHCC is any indication, Medford should have the type of game that will make for another smooth transition when he moves on the Baylor.
“It’s a very similar type of fast game that Baylor plays. Indian Hills does play a little bit faster, but it’s a very similar fast flowing type of basketball that I’m used to.” Medford said. “I love to play defense. If I can get a steal and get an easy lay-up on the other end, that’s the best offense there is.”
Medford showcased that quick-strike ability on both ends of the floor in the second-ranked Warriors’ most recent outing. The sophomore transfer led IHCC’s scoring for the second time in five games with 23 points and had a game-high eight steals to lead Indian Hills to a 95-65 win on Saturday over Rock Valley.
“He’s shown already this year that he can do a lot of different things offensively and defensively,” Peery said of Medford. “We’re really flexible at that position with guys like Lester, Roderick (Bobbitt) and Marcus Posley in there. Lester fits in really well with the type of basketball we like to play.”
Medford, however, isn’t one to take all the credit. Nor is he a player that needs anyone to help him refocus.
“It was really more of a team effort,” Medford said. “I’m just ready to get on to the next game.”
Having made his four-year college plans this early in his sophomore season should benefit both the Baylor program and its newest recruit. No longer having an additional worry of playing to impress college scouts, Medford can simply focus on the task at hand this season of helping Indian Hills be as successful as possible.
“I think the biggest thing is it helps (Lester) simply focus on things here at Indian Hills,” Peery said. “He can just worry about school and basketball now. He doesn’t have to worry about the phone calls and the trips or all the other things that come when colleges are still pursing you. Anytime you can get signed this early in the basketball season, I think it’s always a positive.”
“It feels good to get this out of the way. This is what you work for all your life,” Medford added. “It’s a relief to be going to a Division I school. It’s a huge weight off my back.
This is hardly a signing that came about from out of nowhere. Baylor has been recruiting Medford ever since he made his original college choice. The Bears kept looking to bring in Medford even as he played throughout his first intercollegiate hoops season at Arizona Western and even after Medford transferred north to IHCC for this year.
“I like that Baylor believed in me,” Medford said. “They’ve stuck with me throughout my freshman year and here in my sophomore year. I can concentrate now on winning that national championship here at Indian Hills.”
To follow Scott Jackson's Twitter feed, go to @stjack423