A Fresh Start
How Junior Colleges help shape athletes and individuals.
by Dave Spahn / @davespahn
The world of college basketball recruiting takes many different twists and turns. Division I schools desperately search for instant impact players, kids who can come in right away and heavily contribute from day one. Since most administrations don’t have the patience to work through a complete roster overhaul, schools try to sign college-ready players in hope to reload rather than rebuild. It’s easier said than done, no question. However, many schools find their answer in a place of redemption: junior college.
Junior colleges across the country take kids who did not qualify academically to play NCAA basketball. Over the span of two years, these players raise their GPA’s and graduate with a GED (General Education Degree). Upon graduation after their second year, each player has two years of eligibility left to play NCAA ball. Some players who find their current college a bad fit also tend to transfer to junior college, hoping to find a better four year institution after the season ends.
“Being a JuCo coach is rewarding in the fact that you can help kids improve as a person, student, and athlete,” Steve Forbes explains. “You get to help your players achieve things that they never thought was possible.”
Coach Forbes has been at almost every stop in the college basketball world. He accepted the head coaching job at Northwest Florida State Community College after working as an assistant at the University of Tennessee for the previous five seasons. He served stints as an assistant at Texas A&M, Illinois State, Louisiana Tech, and Idaho respectively. Before his division one jobs, Forbes coached at the junior college level for nine years. He worked as an assistant and a head coach at both Southwestern CC and Barton County CC, helping his players receive scholarship offers since 1989.
Forbes hired two former co-workers in Jason Shay and Brooks Savage. Shay, an X’s and O’s guru, served as an assistant at Tennessee with Forbes. Savage, a young up-and-comer, was a student manager and a graduate assistant at Tennessee. Forbes diversified his staff and created a positive work environment. He understands the type of work it takes to get to each level of basketball and is determined to help his players reach their full potential.
“I’ve coached at every level of Division 1, so i think i have a pretty good idea of what type of player you have to be at each level,” Forbes said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to correct them as players and help them make the right college decision. I’m not going to tell them where to go, but I can give them good advice.”
Northwest Florida State’s loaded roster contains multiple highly touted players, such as former Tennessee commit Chris Jones and Murray State transfer Shawn Jackson. 6’8 big men Nikko Hunter and Demetrius Moore, 6’6 wing Rod Rucker, and 6’4 sharpshooter Chad Donley will all play key roles for the Raiders this season and should receive D1 scholarship offers as well. Rivals ranked Chris Jones as a top 50 prospect in the country for the class of 2011 and should immediately become a star at the junior college level. His lightning speed with the ball and his ball handling are both at an elite level, making him almost unstoppable in the open court. Shawn Jackson hopes to improve his stock amongst college coaches and prove his worth as a legitimate big man at the next level, a task he has succeeded at so far this summer. Although both players needed junior college for different reasons, they both use junior college to help push them to the highest level of division one basketball.
“Living on my own is going to make me a more mature person,” Jones said. “Junior college has taken me out of my comfort zone and made me a better leader already.”
The Raiders’ ultra-talented squad should be in serious competition for a run at a National Championship this season, but the real objective for coach Forbes is to help his kids grow and mature into men. Winning games comes from preparation and execution, something coach Forbes mastered throughout his coaching career. After the games are over, however, is where the true measuring stick gets put to the test.
“Everybody is in JuCo for a reason; everyone has a story, but they also have an opportunity to improve,” Forbes stated. “I’ve always said JuCo is the one true level in college basketball where you can help kids. Of all the places I’ve been, JuCo has brought me my most rewarding experiences.”