Juco Athletes in College Sports

Players often enroll to sharpen skills

Marshall Henderson
Getty Images

Short for "junior college," juco typically refers to athletes who initially play at two-year schools, also often called community colleges, earn an associate degree, and then transfer to a four-year college with two seasons of eligibility remaining. The term can also refer to the school itself.

Because these players have completed degree programs, they are not obligated to sit out a year like other transfer students.

Division I Prospects

Division I coaches often look to juco players to fill roster spots left open by transfers or players leaving school early, or to stagger the graduation dates of their rosters so they don't risk having too many players leave at once.

In the past, junior college was the best option for players who had trouble meeting academic standards for eligibility at Division I schools or who needed to refine their games before playing at college basketball's highest level. The rise of prep schools, which allow top prospects to get their academics and games in order without compromising any NCAA eligibility, has made junior college a much less attractive option.

Successful Jucos in College Basketball History

Although sometimes jucos have the odds stacked against them, there have been several successful jucos in the history of college basketball.

The name Marshall Henderson may ring a bell. This juco lit up the scoreboard once he made his way to Ole Miss. As a juco at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas, he led his team to the junior college national championship and was named the National Junior College Player of the Year.

Jimmy Butler is another juco success story. You may know him as one of the stars with the Chicago Bulls and the Minnesota Timberwolves, but before he played in the NBA he spent time in junior college. He attended Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas, for one season before transferring to Marquette, where he showed flashes of greatness.

Before Avery Johnson began his NBA playing career, he played for New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs, N.M. He went on to have a 16-year career in the NBA as a journeyman player.

Common Misconception

There's a common misconception that athletes enroll in junior colleges because they got bad grades in high school. This is certainly not always the case. Sometimes athletes decide to enroll in junior college simply because they are not being recruited by any Division I colleges and they can't afford to pay tuition as a walk-on.

As a juco, these athletes can prove their worth by playing the sport of their choice. If they excel at it, Division I coaches will almost always offer them scholarships to transfer out of junior college.