Now, in January, this typically becomes the time when most high school seniors start to feel an increase of pressure in their athletic careers. For basketball players, the school season has reached its halfway point and only a couple of months remain in the seniors’ time with their respective programs. Not trying to be blunt, it’s just the harsh part of reality; we’ve been there before in the past. As the final stretch of the high school experience starts to unfold, I recommend all undecided students in the Class of 2019 to start a list of potential future decisions, if not having already done so.
For those looking to play at the college level, keep doing the essential things: sending athletic information to programs, having film on hand, and completing any required standardized tests. However, the seniors may also want to consider another post-high school route as well: joining either a post-grad program or junior college; part of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). The two options come with their own benefits and differ in ways of operating that all athletes/families should keep in mind. I feel that Post-Grad (PG), as well as JUCO, programs have gained more recognition over the years but here’s some specific guidelines and notes for those who may inquire about what the two options bring to the table.
Effect on Eligibility
All athletes need to understand this area arguably more than anything else; one would never want to put him or herself in a detrimental position due to a lack of realizing potential consequences. Attending a one-year PG school does NOT have an effect on one’s four-year college eligibility. Also referred to as a ‘prep schools,’ many most likely deem the PG alternative as a ‘bonus year’ that gives athletes opportunities to strengthen their skills both on the court and in the classroom. Those pursuing this option can expect to find it offered by mainly independent schools, which typically extends the option to a group of 10-20 students who are essentially members of the senior class.
JUCO programs, in terms of college eligibility, work in a different manner than the PG route. Athletes attend JUCOs for two-years, which DOES count into their eligibility. So, after those two years at a JUCO institution, a player would only have two remaining years of college ball left if he/she picked up an NCAA scholarship. That notion arguably plays the biggest determining factor in what route a player decides to take. One needs to always raise the question if sacrificing two-years of potential NCAA play is worth it before making the decision to attend a JUCO.
Both PG and JUCO programs hold the same mission in giving their athletes opportunities to get those grades up. For Post-Grad, first-year student-athletes have already attained a high school diploma, so they can use the year to build upon their approach to studies, managing time, and overall transcript. A player can get an early start on adding college courses to his/her transcript during a PG year, if the institution offers such courses. PG schools pretty much fall in the middle of high school and college education. There’s no particular certain GPA requirement for student-athletes looking to attend PG programs. Still, most schools differ in their standards, such as which high school classes can be repeated, and some will have one or two required courses for their attendees.
For JUCO, academic eligibility does not require much; mainly, an athlete has to simply hold a high school diploma. If that first option does not become available, athletes can also use the GED as a second alternative. The key involves making sure the GED becomes legitimate, as it must either be authorized by a state-recognized education agency, a regional association, or approved by the NJCAA National Office. For the non-high school graduates, they can establish eligibility by completing a single term of college work. This comes with having to pass 12 credits with a 1.75 or higher overall grade point average. Similar to the PG mission, JUCO schools also hold values of setting their players up for more future success in the classroom. Most of the time, players attend a JUCO because they didn’t qualify academically for an NCAA program. An extra two years at a JUCO institution can provide time in boosting up one’s academic credentials and determining what pathway to take in terms of majoring/minoring.
I had the privilege of attending an open practice held by Massanutten Military Academy (Woodstock, VA), a PG program, during my ‘open gym tour’ back in late-October. There, I learned more information about the lifestyle of a PG athlete. Over in Woodstock, Massanutten’s players typically wake up at 6am every morning to have breakfast no later than 6:30am. Afterwards, they head into classes starting at 8am and finish up around 11/11:30am. Depending on the rest of the day’s activities, the Colonels may have some time to unwind but usually practice early in the afternoon around 2pm. This serves a purpose so they can finish up before the other school teams take over the court. Outside of time on the floor, the team also goes through daily weightlifting and film sessions.
As one can see, the main difference for PG athletes pertains to not dealing with in a typical 7-hour school day filled with classes. Nevertheless, all this means is more time for athletes to focus on the few classes listed on their agenda and prepare for the lengthy season. Looking at Massanutten’s schedule, the 35-listed games reminded me that of a college one.
In the case of JUCOs, I’m confident in assuming their daily schedule looks similar to the aforementioned one. Honestly, I would expect it to appear even more rigorous due to the fact that those schools are part of a college athletics association. The age difference at a JUCO mainly distinguishes itself from PG competition. Players spend two years and develop themselves physically to compete against older players. As a result, the game becomes faster and more aggressive. In watching game highlights and hearing from others’ conversations, it doesn’t sound much different than NCAA competition. As I touched upon earlier, I’m sure a big portion of JUCO hoopers already have what it takes to compete at the NCAA level, just not the grades or proper coursework.
What Else is Good?
In the case of both options, one can find a handful of benefits. Personally, I have always perceived PG and JUCO programs as useful ‘second-chance opportunities’ for players who wish to continue their playing careers after high school. Most players want to go straight from high school to the NCAA Division I level, yet everyone’s path is different and sometimes certain decisions must come into play. In addition to the academic and athletic boost, some PG schools also offer foreign language training. Those who look to attend some of the top PG institutions in the U.S. will notice offered programs for English language learners; international student-athletes with their sights on mastering the English language to study at American universities.
Those who attend PG schools also have a great chance of receiving exposure from college coaches. For these coaches, PG programs are becoming more valuable by the day in how they give a great impression of unsigned/under-the-radar talent that coaches can use to fill in gaps of recruiting classes. At JUCOs, it’s possible that exposure will not emerge at the same high rate compared to the PG route. The notion of grades as a concern, along with the loss of two years for eligibility, may not attract as many college coaches compared to the PG pathway. I personally feel that PG schools receive more exposure currently because they’re filled with high-level players who still have four years of play left. Coaches gain a quicker sense of which players are ready to contribute after needing only one year to sharpen some things up. Still, as I mentioned earlier, JUCO players benefit some of the most in learning how to play more of a college game against older and stronger competition. After two years, it makes the transition to the NCAA that much easier.
Other Cons to Consider
In any decision, one should always expect some bad to come with the good. Well, I guess consequences are labeled ‘bad’ depending on how one perceives it. For starters, attending either a PG or JUCO will bring some money out of the pockets. Both options do not come at a cheap price, especially PG programs. For example, IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida) has a tuition of over $78,000 for their student-athlete PG program, per the school website (imgacademy.com). Requirements also vary for players looking to make their way into PG schools; they usually will not just accept anybody. Back to money issues, some may find interest in learning that JUCOs can offer both partial and full scholarships. However, keep in mind that only Division I JUCOs have the power to offer full scholarships, while Division II JUCOs award funding for tuition, fees, and books, and Division III JUCOs does not provide any funding for athletics.2 Most PG schools can offer financial aid, based on need, but very few will hand out talent-based scholarships.
Aside from the financial matter, several PG programs also require a specific code of conduct that some athletes may initially struggle getting used to. For example, there’s a quite a few military boarding schools around the Virginia region: Massanutten, Fork Union, and Hargrave Military Academy. All three have been recognized as top PG choices for basketball. Still, prospective players must realize how these institutions function on a daily basis before making the commitment. While losing two years of eligibility acts as one of the biggest cons for the JUCO pathway, there’s also the fact that JUCOs typically have less of a basketball budget compared to PG programs.
There’s no denying that using either of the two options can come with a price. Still, recent years have shown both PG and JUCO programs steadily maintaining their advantageous nature. I now see more and more young hoopers making prideful statements on social media when they commit to a JUCO; it’s still next-level play ultimately. To the 2019 high school seniors who may be feeling some frustration in not having any offers up to this point, don’t give up. Keep doing all you can necessary to attract the attention to college coaches. Still, I recommend to keep the PG/JUCO options in mind as well. You never know what doors those alternatives can open up.
I hope this helps those with curiosity about PG and JUCO programs!
 ‘National Junior College Athletic Association.’ NJCAA.org. 9 January 2019.
 ‘Gap Year Programs: The Private School Postgraduate Year.’ ThoughtCo.com. 21 July 2018.
 ‘Alternative Basketball Options – Prep School and Junior College.’ ProSkillsBasketball.com. 18 July 2017.