Prep Schools Steal Juco Thunder

The toughest job in America right now, aside from being President, is being a college assistant looking for talent to sign during the spring period. Nowadays, almost all of the elite level players sign during the early period and the ones who are still on the board at this point already have dates for the dance.

So, if you're a college recruiter armed with the knowledge that the high school ranks are devoid of players, its juco time, right? Wrong.

The hunt for the next Reggie Evans or Steve Francis isn't going to happen this year and it might not happen much in the future either. Junior college basketball, specifically this season, appears to have taken a hit.

"I think the quality of juco ball has dropped drastically," said a Division I assistant who confirmed the hypothesis. "Go through your prep school list of Top 50-75 guys and they should be in juco. Re-Classification in general has hurt."

Nowadays kids aren't so juiced about using two years of Division I eligibility at a junior college when they can mix it up at a prep school for a year instead.

"They're making it worse for junior colleges with the new requirements and the sliding scale where you can have a higher GPA," Southern Idaho assistant Jay Cyriac said. "The rules encourage kids to get their GPA up so they can get a lower test score." And there are plenty of prep schools around.

"On the East Coast for sure the prep schools are a little better [than junior colleges]," Hargrave Military Academy head coach Mike Preston said. "There's new prep schools popping up everyday."

At the very base level, prep schools offer kids the chance to raise their standardized test scores while playing a fifth season of hoops without the penalty of having to use any college eligibility. In the end, it can be more attractive than junior college.

"With some kids they're that far behind that they're only postponing the inevitable," Cyriac said.

Ok, so if our hypothesis is that prep schools are snatching up the very best potential junior college players (i.e. the high major kids), what's to come of juco ball down the road?

"There aren't many high, high-majors [in junior college] but my point is I don't think there ever has been," said Rick Ball of BallStars, a scouting service devoted to junior college basketball. "I think more juco kids sign over their head than under."

Ball thinks hunting for a kid who can come in and average 10 points and 10 rebounds in your big-time program is a waste of time. He says that guy isn't in juco ball and only on the rare occasion was he ever involved at that level.

"When Keith Smart hit that shot in '87, that's when high-majors started recruiting junior colleges. Most juco kids are mid-majors or low-major players."

Combine Ball's assertion with the increase in the number of prep schools – especially on the East Coast – and it starts becoming clear that not only are our high school ranks depleted of top level talent at this point in the year, but junior college isn't a great option either.

"Plus, the pool has also dwindled because more juco guys sign early now," a Division I assistant said. Still, schools scour the juco ranks for talent, especially post players.

"The juco post man has always been the 6-7, 220-pound athlete," Ball said. "They've always been the kids nobody wanted."

Well, I know of about 50 schools that would take a 220-pounder and put him to use. Problem is, no matter where you look there just aren't many around right now.

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