Don’t Look Now but the NCAA’s Elite are Playing “Junior College” Basketball

JUCOIs it just me or has anyone else noticed that NCAA college basketball has become junior college basketball? Well whether you’ve noticed or not, it has – at least in the elite programs! I’m definitely not saying that it’s a bad thing but I am saying that it’s a fact.

Now before you get your spandex bunched up in a wad here is my reasoning. I have been involved in junior college basketball in some capacity for nearly my entire life. My father was a junior college coach and I became his team’s official scorekeeper when I was 8 years old and didn’t miss a game until I made the high school varsity team.

I eventually played for my dad’s junior college team before moving on and transferring and then became a junior college coach myself soon after I graduated. I am as familiar with junior college basketball as anyone I know.

For years junior college coaches, players, and programs have often been treated like unwanted step children – mainly because they did things a little differently so they could adapt to their situation.

I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have heard things like: “Junior colleges almost never have the traditional two guards, two forwards, and a center. They just have a bunch of players the exact same size.” “Junior college coaches just try to fill their roster with good athletes and then teach them whatever skills they can.” “Offenses are way too simple in junior college; coaches don’t really coach, they just roll out the balls.” And on and on and on. . . . . . .

The truth of the matter is that some of those statements (and others like them) are true which is why junior college coaches are some of the best in the country! Faced with the challenge of replacing up to half their roster and often their entire starting five each and every year, junior college coaches have had to learn to make adjustments that their four year university counterparts never had to make. Until now.

In each of the last several years approximately 425 underclassmen have transferred from NCAA Division 1 schools for a variety of reasons and over 40 other underclassmen have opted to leave school early each year in order to enter the NBA draft. Add these numbers to those players lost to graduation and to those players who quit playing altogether because of injury, eligibility problems, or personal issues and what do you have? You have practically a brand new team every year. In other words, you have Junior College basketball in a university setting!

Not too long ago Division 1 rosters would be dominated by experienced players who had already developed chemistry with their teammates and coaches and so the few incoming freshmen were simply integrated into the program. When they entered college as freshmen, the new players thoroughly learned the offensive and defensive “systems” that were already firmly established, paid their dues, and got themselves ready to eventually make huge contributions. By the time they graduated from the same program four years later these players had often mastered several offenses (North Carolina’s Dean Smith, one of the most respected college coaches of all time, ran 5 complete yet different offenses nearly every season.) and increased their basketball IQ in the process.

That rarely happens anymore. As an example just look at this year’s University of Kentucky roster which lists 9 freshmen, 2 sophomores and a junior who started his career at a junior college. That’s 12 players with less than two years of experience in the program!

Now instead of learning multiple offenses, nearly every team runs a very simple pick and roll or dribble drive offense with a roster full of great athletes who have no real “position.” (It’s interesting to note that Kentucky’s now famous dribble drive offense was taught to Coach John Calipari by a junior college coach.)

Since most offenses today are far from complex, coaches can spend less time teaching offensive intricacies and more time on skill development and because many players won’t be in the program long enough to gradually improve their talents their basketball IQ, athleticism becomes a bigger premium than ever before.

Sound familiar? Well it does to most junior college coaches.

Again, I’m not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just the way that it is – and it’s going to stay this way as long as transfer rates remain sky high and the “one and done” rule stay intact.

 

One thought on “Don’t Look Now but the NCAA’s Elite are Playing “Junior College” Basketball

  1. Karen

    I completely agree with your article about Division 1 Coaches not spending/taking the time to really teach the game of basketball.
    As a parent I am currently faced with the experience of my 2 boys going to a Division 1 college which, I believe, sold us a “bill of goods”. Our boys were well recruited, but the school on who we decided came selling the fact that they would really work with the boys and teach them the game so as their game would expand and they would improve (they are already very athletic), but we were looking for a program where the fundamentals of the game would be taught, complied with their athleticism and how well they already know the game; they would be on their way to NBA status. Unfortunately, as a parent that has worked with them all their lives in basketball, I see that they have regressed, don’t know if some other incentive or underlying influencing factor was involved in Coach not doing what he explained to us that he/they would do but it is very painful to have watched this throughout the year. These boys that have the potential to one day be drafted, it seem as though they have been stumped down to the ground and now as parents we have been left with the task of how do we get them to the level in Basketball where they a well abled to be, which is at the top of the charts.

    Thank you for your article.

    Wounded and very concerned parents that will not relent until we find the right program.

    Reply

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