Every JUCO player has a story.”
I have been following Junior College Basketball(JUCO) for 20+ years. Following means attending practice, summer scrimmages, pre-conference tournaments, conference games and playoff/state tournaments. I remember the games, the tournaments, the trips to the State Tournaments but I best remember the players.
The vignettes about the JUCO players that I will be writing are not about specific players. They may be a amalgamate of several players or have changes made to protect the innocent and the guilty.
Hope you enjoy and in some cases feel the pain of the stories as much as I did recalling them.
When you grow up in one of the most dangerous cities in the world…you learn how to survive. It’s a lot easier though, no matter where you live, when you are 6’5” by time you’re a freshman in high school.
Two things were very different for basketball players in those days. No “Social Media” to let the world know how good and “bad” you were and players could not play NBA basketball right out of high school.
The best/controversial college basketball coach in the nation recruited “Bars” to the most talked about D-1 University of the time. True or not, the players at the university, were thought to be recruited mostly from the prison systems and the mean streets. Rumors floated that the “Mob” funded the program and made sure they were “protected” from their enemies; the NCAA, law enforcement, professors and other D-1 teams. I am sure these were all just rumors of course.
“Bars” right out of high school wasn’t prepared for this university environment. He needed some tempering in a place that was far way from everything, supervised by a D-1 head coach that could handle special players. They found a JUCO that fit those requirements perfectly.
It was quite a year! He went to work with the basketball team. Oh my. No one could stop him at 6’5”, 215 at the shooting guard position. Averaged 30+ points a game. Yep, 30+ points a game. He was ready for the big time. But, as everyone knew, it wasn’t basketball that needed improvement at the JUCO. It was the need to learn social and academic skills so he could play and survive at the next level.
Stories, stories. He loved kids. He would protected them with his life. On the basketball court he would would look for a way to “do in” a competitor who “dissed” him. On and on and on. What a year. But at the end it was determined that “Bars” has learned enough to head off to the big time.
He fit perfectly there. One of the most talented group of players to ever play together at a University. The university was in full war with the NCAA during “Bars” three years there. He led them to a national championship(taken away by NCAA), conference championships, and one year averaged 29 points per game. He ended his “college career” by being suspended from his team just before playoffs due to allegations of having someone doing his academics for him.
“Bars” checkered college career did not stop the NBA from recruiting him as a top five pick with, for that time, big bucks. He was so talented that he was named NBA rookie of the year and averaged 19 ppg for three years at one team. Things really started down hill from there. Six teams in nine years. “Bars” was dogged by a variety of personal problems, including accusations of drug use and assault.
When he was finally waived for the last time by the NBA, he was said to be broke due to his drug habit and his “fake friends”…can you say posse? The low point of his young life was when he put in jail for a whole number of charges including possession of cocaine.
Looking back, “Bar’s” one year of JUCO basketball may have been the best time in his life. No money, very little “freedom”, isolation, just going to class, and basketball practice. It kept him away from drugs, bad company and life threating decisions. When he he started making his own decisions….it end up with him “Looking out between the bars.”