For some local athletes, road to D1 goes right through junior college

Loyola guard Tyson Smith, middle, waits for a free throw in a game against Bradley on Jan. 25. Smith transferred from a junior college two years ago. (Elan Kane/MEDILL)

For some local athletes, road to D1 goes right through junior college

By Elan Kane
Special Contributor to

Loyola guard Tyson Smith had been playing basketball for years, but nothing prepared him for that practice.

It was his first at the College of Southern Idaho, one of the top junior college teams in the country, and it was, according to Smith, one of the hardest practices of his life. But Smith knew that playing in junior college was all part of his transition from playing basketball in high school to now playing for a Division I program.

"Don't get me wrong, I've been through some intense workouts, but the level and intensity and the demand [in junior college] was way higher than what I was used to," Smith said. "Once it grew on me, I felt like I elevated my game and my mental aspect of the game as well."

Smith is one of 16 current men's and women's players from the five Chicago-area Division I college basketball programs — Northwestern, DePaul, Loyola, University of Illinois at Chicago and  Chicago State — who have transferred from a National Junior College Athletic Association school.

Basketball transfers from junior college is not a new development – NBA players like Jimmy Butler, Dennis Rodman and Nate Archibald all attended junior college at some point in their careers – but the trend is continuing locally at a steady rate.

Playing at a junior college is an option for many athletes who want to play basketball after high school but may not have the necessary tools to play Division I.

"I had Division II and Division III offers out of high school but I felt to myself I could play at a higher level, I could play Division I basketball," said Loyola forward Aundre Jackson. "Some of the people around me were telling me JUCO is bad because most people go to JUCO and they get in trouble and what-not. But I knew that if I went to JUCO, I was on a mission to get to where I knew I could play."

Jackson decided to attend McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, where he averaged 14.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. His play at McLennan impressed such Division I programs as Arkansas State, Cleveland State and Stephen F. Austin State, and he ultimately landed at Loyola, where he was recently named to the Missouri Valley Conference All-Newcomer team.

Smith had a similar success story. For Smith, junior college was a natural step between high school and Division I.

"When I went to junior college, I got exposed to college as a freshman in high-level basketball and I had to step up and really work on my body, work on my game and adjust to it," Smith said. "When I ended up going to Division I, I felt like I was more prepared."

Smith said his experience in junior college also helped him realize the importance of practice before games. He developed a routine of when he would wake up before a practice, when he would arrive at the gym and how long it would take to get prepared mentally for a practice.

"I feel like moving forward from junior college to Division I, practice is more crucial than games because it's your preparation that really matters," Smith said. "Many coaches will tell you the game is not won on game day, it's really the preparation in the days before the game."

Read the full story at Medill Reports Chicago.

CSN Chicago, in partnership with Northwestern University,  features journalism by students in the graduate program at Medill School of Journalism. The students are reporters for Medill News Service. Medill faculty members edit the student work. Click here for more information about Medill.

Dave Leitao suspended 3 games, DePaul put on 3-year probation


Dave Leitao suspended 3 games, DePaul put on 3-year probation

The DePaul men's basketball team has been placed on three-year probation and head coach Dave Leitao has been suspended three games for the 2019-20 season, the NCAA announced on Tuesday.

The program was found guilty of "failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance while Leitao did not "prevent violations from occurring in his program."

A Division I Committee on Infractions panel concluded that a "former DePaul associate head coach violated NCAA ethical conduct rules when he knowingly directed the former assistant director of basketball operations to provide impermissible recruiting benefits to a recruit."

The NCAA found that three coaches knew about the situation but failed to report the infractions. DePaul will vacate all wins earned while the ineligible player competed and suffer recruiting restrictions. They were also fined $5,000 plus 1% of the men's basketball program budget.

In 2019, DePaul had their first winning season since 2007 by going 19-17. 

Jalen Rose: Fab Five beef squashed with Michigan hiring Juwan Howard


Jalen Rose: Fab Five beef squashed with Michigan hiring Juwan Howard

The Michigan Wolverines are hiring former Fab Five star Juwan Howard as the head coach of their basketball team. Aside from being a part of that prolific college basketball team, Howard is a two-time NBA champion with the LeBron James-led Miami Heat.

And he is a former local basketball hoops star at Chicago Vocational Career Academy, where we was named an All-American in 1991.

But the Fab Five have not been on the best of terms over the years, particularly current ESPN analyst Jalen Rose and Chris Webber. With Howard back in Ann Arbor, all beefs are officially over.

“It squashes any drama or any beef because we’re not going to bring that to Ann Arbor’s campus with Juwan Howard as our head coach," Rose told Mike Greenberg when asked about the beef Thursday morning on ESPN's Get Up. "The one thing that we both know is his success turning around the University of Michigan is first and foremost about him and about the players that he’s going to influence. Then it’s about us being there to support him, not being drama, not being splintered, not giving any indication of dysfunction.

"We’re going to move as a family and we’re going to do what we can to build on what John Beilein has established in Ann Arbor.”

Rose reiterated this point later in the day during a segment with fellow Michigan alum Adam Schefter.

Let's wait and see if Howard brings winning ways to Michigan to make this honeymoon period last, otherwise it could be back to business as usual.

Also, does Chris Webber feel the same way? Has Rose already talked to Webber to clear the air? Or is Rose just saying it's over on his side in the hopes Webber follows suit?

Both Webber and Rose made it clear that Howard was their preferred candidate, so they seem to be on the same page.

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