by Greg Carroll, Tudor Collegiate Strategies
It’s a market that many coaches overlook when they are looking for their next point guard, or the goalie that will fill the void left by a graduating player, or someone who can bring more maturity and experience to their locker room following a big senior class.
I’m talking about junior college transfers. Recently I was on the campus of a junior college to do a workshop. I was taken back to my earliest days as a college athletic director at a junior college and some of those unique challenges. In addition to spending time with the coaching staff I got the opportunity to meet athletes from several teams. It was a terrific couple days and I was reminded that both coach and athlete can be great allies for four year athletic programs.
There’s no arguing the fact that the opportunity to build out a player’s skills from their first year to their senior year is ideal. In addition, building a roster around transfers isn’t a sustainable model for long term success. Going after a handful of junior college transfers can, however, definitely jump start a program facing a challenging future.
It can be especially viable right now as economics are having a very real impact on prospects and their families are making decisions. Dan Tudor spoke about the impact family finances are having on college choice at every level in a recent newsletter article. To support that a study published last week by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that while overall spring undergraduate enrollment once again fell this past spring by 4.7 percent there was a rebound in community college enrollment. First-time, first year enrollment in that sector increased 3.1 percent over last spring.
What does all this mean to your recruiting plans? It means that some very good athletes are out there as families are taking a serious look at long term student debt. (ie. “So I can take out $80,000 in student loans or maybe cut that more than half and actually be able to buy a house before I’m 60!”). Not only are there some VERY talented and committed athletes at JUCO’s they can be terrific additions to your roster for other reasons:
- They know exactly what they want. What they want is to play! It’s very simple for these athletes and it can be just as simple for you to recruit them. They don’t have time to sit on your bench waiting for an opportunity to play. If you have a need to fill they are ready to go and you need to let them know that in no uncertain terms as you recruit them.
- While most of your first year and sophomore athletes have been developing as practice players and seeing limited playing time, the JUCO athletes have been playing A LOT. For two years they’ve been getting a ton of minutes and by the time they come to your program they are seasoned competitors accustomed to pressure situations and ready to lead under those circumstances.
- If you are a coach taking over a program and looking for some quick success because you haven’t had the chance to build your own recruiting class you should definitely be shopping in the JUCO market. If you can add a few game ready players to your roster, doing so gives you the opportunity to evaluate your needs more deeply, challenge and push your first years and sophomores while maintaining competitiveness.
- There is no substitute for experience both on the court and off. The two years of experience a JUCO athlete can bring to your program goes beyond the playing field or court. They can be a significant positive influence in your locker room. They’re older, typically (hopefully!!) more mature because whatever decisions or circumstances led them to the JUCO route are now behind them and they have no interest in looking back.
- Their body of work speaks for itself. Over the years I can’t begin to count how many times one of my coaches would come into my office disappointed by their decision to recruit a freshman who was now a problem in the locker room, wasn’t going to class, or maybe their parents were driving them NUTS! By the time an athlete has completed two years competing as a JUCO athlete there is virtually no guesswork. Their JUCO coach can be very decisive about what the athlete can bring and what he can’t.
- Last, these athletes, in general, are pleasers. They know the clock is ticking and they have limited opportunities. They don’t have four years. They’ve got two. They want to play more than anything in the world and they’ll do whatever it takes to do so. That can make a coach’s life a lot easier.
So now, how do you pursue a JUCO prospect? Your traditional timeline is likely out the window because you are likely going to be recruiting them through the spring/summer of their graduation year from their junior college. What that means is you have a very small window of time to show them how your are different from other schools they might be considering and why you are a better choice.
First, as I stated previously, you have to tell them what you like about them and why you are interested NOW. They want to be on the field/court from the get go! You need to be very clear about what their role will be, your plan for getting them minutes, and what you’re going to do to improve their play. They need to see your personalized plan for them in the same way you should be discussing that with your high school recruits.
Second, you have limited time to tell your school’s story and your program’s story. You need to ask them “What are the three most important things you’re looking for as you take this next step?” After they tell you what their priorities are – ask their parents what their priorities are as well. You may hear the same three things, but that’s unlikely. You’re more likely to get five or six different things. Those priorities become the agenda for your story telling. You don’t have the time to recruit them in the same way as a high school senior. You have to get right to the heart of the matter and commit to consistently (every 6-9 days) building out those story lines.
Junior college recruiting isn’t the solution to every scenario but I often sense a bias from coaches about fishing from those waters. Quite often, the circumstances that led those athletes to a JUCO were simply out of their control. They just want to play.
Greg Carroll is on the team at Tudor Collegiate Strategies helping college coaches bring in winning recruiting classes. If you have questions about your approach to recruiting JUCO players, email Greg at email@example.com to set up a strategy call.