Originally Published: Jan 20, 2014

Junior college players show process works

By Myron Medcalf | ESPN.com

Baylor point guard Kenny Chery worried about his future.

He had solid grades and a proven work ethic. He was a strong competitor who had left his family in Montreal to pursue Division I basketball opportunities.

After he finished high school in Washington, D.C., and the time arrived for the Canadian prospect to apply for colleges, however, he encountered a challenge that his 3.2 GPA could not help him overcome.

The NCAA Clearinghouse refused to grant Chery eligibility to play at the next level. The Canadian classes on his transcript, some of which weren't deemed adequate, complicated his journey.

"Some classes back home, they don't use them here as core credits," Chery said. "For example, history. We don't learn the same history."

Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesKenny Chery had to a travel a longer road to get to Baylor. "But it worked out pretty well," he said.

So he had to take a detour to State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Mo.

It's unfair to stereotype an entire pool of talent, yet the "junior college" tag often elicits skepticism within the college basketball community. But that perception might be changing, especially for coaches seeking mature players who can fill key holes on their rosters.

"I just knew that I had to do what I had do to get here," said Wichita State's Darius Carter, who attended Vincennes University in Vincennes, Ind., before joining the Shockers. "I wasn't really worried about how I'd be labeled. I just wanted to stand out as one of those guys that's not a 'juco guy,' one of those types of people."

There are many examples of athletes who have succeeded after junior college. Players such as Steve Francis, Jimmy Butler, Avery Johnson, Ben Wallace and Dennis Rodman were all juco products before successful NBA runs.

This season, Wichita State's Cleanthony Early, Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson, Memphis' Geron Johnson, Louisville's Chris Jones and Chery have all played significant roles for their respective programs. But there are far more casualties than stars who have entered Division I basketball from the junior college circuit in recent years.

And even some of the players who have made it have had to battle a negative perception about athletes who come from those ranks. Concerns about prospects' academic aptitude, athletic ability and character have been obstacles for players in Chery's position.

"I didn't want people to think, he didn't qualify [out of high school] because he got bad grades," Chery said. "At first, I was really worried."

But the junior college crop is more complex than that, and Chery's tale proves as much.

There are definitely some juco players who are not playing high-major basketball because of academic issues or other "red flags." There are others who were good kids who just needed junior college to prepare them for the transition to Division I basketball. In that regard, junior college is not always a last chance for bad seeds. It's also a haven for players who can boost a program on and off the court from the moment they arrive.

And coaches recognize that.

"With Kenny, we're like there's nothing he can't do," said Baylor coach Scott Drew, who relied on junior college transfer Pierre Jackson last season. "He's got the midrange, the 3, the floater. [He] can finish at the rim, can defend, good student, good leader, diligent. No red flags."

When Larry Brown coached Kansas in the 1980s, he stayed away from junior college players. He didn't think it was fair to sign them and potentially reduce playing time for the players who had spent two or three years in his program.

He's changed his stance since returning to college basketball at SMU, although new academic requirements make it tougher to add junior college players today than it was 30 years ago.

"I love junior college kids, personally, because they're hungry," Brown said. "There's great coaching on the junior college level."

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