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JUCO Basketball Players Who Made It To The NBA

With unwavering determination, these junior college players blazed their own trail to basketball’s highest level.

Jimmy Butler and more JUCO players who made it to the NBA
Credit-Getty Images/Joker Mag

When you think of colleges that produce the best players in the NBA, you probably think of the same schools everyone else does.

Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Villanova, and more powerhouse programs.

But you might be surprised to learn that not only did a number of successful NBA players attend schools far from the caliber of these blue-bloods, but they started at the lowest collegiate level possible for a student-athlete.

Community college. You may also know it as a junior college, or JUCO for short.

Two-year colleges provide players with a wonderful opportunity to enhance their skills before moving up to a large school.

Other times, attending JUCO provides student-athletes dealing with difficult personal or academic circumstances the chance to figure out these off-the-court matters. Sometimes, a player simply needs more development and reps on the court at a junior college before they can handle playing for the Dukes and Kentuckys of the college basketball world.

Despite JUCO having a general reputation as producing little to no professional athletic talent, a number of NBA players past and present have proven this statement wrong. Junior college basketball can absolutely be a successful pipeline to an NBA career.

These players are proof.

Table of Contents

Active NBA Players Who Played JUCO Basketball

Jimmy Butler – SF, Tyler Junior College

Jimmy Butler quote: "People told me in high school thatI was too short and not fast enough to play basketball."

Well before Jimmy Butler was a two-time Eastern Conference champion in the NBA, he was a lightly recruited high school prospect who got his collegiate start at Tyler Junior College.

After graduating high school as a two-star recruit, Butler attended the Texas JUCO to improve his grades in the classroom since he was academically ineligible for larger D1 schools. Aside from trouble in school, Butler grew up in a rocky family situation, with both his father and mother being distant from his life in Jimmy’s formative years.

“My whole life people have doubted me,” said Butler. “My mom did. People told me in high school that I was too short and not fast enough to play basketball.”

“They didn’t know my story, because if they did, they would know that anything is possible.”

Upon getting a chance to showcase his skills at Tyler, Butler put up over 18 points per game and over 7 rebounds per game in his lone season at the junior college level. Improving his grades in the process as well, Butler’s rise led him to play in the Big East Conference for Marquette University. At Marquette, Butler was a two-time All Big East Honorable Mention player.

Since being drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the 30th overall selection in the 2011 NBA Draft, Butler has become one of the league’s best players, most recently helping the Miami Heat become just the second-ever 8th seed to reach the NBA Finals.

Chris Boucher – PF, New Mexico Junior College & Powell College

Chris Boucher traveled an unconventional path before he became the first and only Canadian-born player to win an NBA championship with the Toronto Raptors.

He grew up in poverty in Saint Lucia, and only started to gain true recognition as a basketball player once he got invited into the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) scene. Prior to this, Boucher had dropped out of high school.

At the junior college level, Boucher took two stops – New Mexico Junior College and Powell College (Wyoming). After averaging 11.9 points per game in New Mexico, he almost doubled that mark in Wyoming, where he won NJCAA Player of the Year.

Boucher finally got his shot at the D1 level when he became a star defensive player for the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 Conference.

Despite going undrafted in the 2017 NBA Draft, Boucher went on to become an NBA champion in his first two seasons in the association; first with the Warriors in 2018, and then with his home-country Raptors.

READ MORE: How Chris Boucher Went From Line-Cook to 2-Time NBA Champ

Richaun Holmes – PF, Moraine Valley Community College

Today, Richuan Holmes is a key rotation player for one of the best surprises in the NBA in 2023, the Sacramento Kings. And just like the scrappy underdogs the Kings have become, Holmes has a similar story.

Despite a major high school growth spurt, Holmes got his start in college at a Chicagoland JUCO. At Moraine Valley, Holmes averaged 19.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 5.2 blocks per game. He was a JUCO All-American, netting him Division I attention. But he stayed the low-key route, joining a mid-major program in Bowling Green.

Holmes’ work ethic was incredible, as he became the type of guy who would take hundreds of shots a day in practice. As a senior, he averaged close to 15 points and 3 blocks a game. His hard work led him to become a second-round draft selection by the Philadelphia 76ers.

Over the course of an eight-season NBA career, Holmes has become an established rebounder and defender, earning him a contract of over $50 million in 2021.

Jae Crowder – PF, South Georgia Technical College & Howard College

Jae Crowder played for two different community colleges before making a well-traveled NBA veteran. Growing up and into high school, Crowder’s height and weight both were sub-par for playing at a higher level.

But he worked on his conditioning by the conclusion of his junior year of high school and latched on with the team at South Georgia. In his only season there, Crowder was named the Georgia Junior College Athletic Association Player of the Year.

Crowder achieved even greater success in his next JUCO stop. At Howard College, he was named NABC NJCAA Player of the Year while leading the team to their first NJCAA Division I championship in school history. His success at the JUCO stage turned into a two-year career at Marquette University, where he was named Big East Player of the Year and an AP Second-Team All-American in his second season in Milwaukee.

Crowder has enjoyed a run of success in the NBA while playing for Dallas, Boston, Cleveland, Utah, Memphis, Miami, Phoenix, and Milwaukee.

Former NBA Players From Junior Colleges

Ben Wallace – C, Cuyahoga Community College

A quote from NBA veteran & Hall of Famer Ben Wallace: "A lot of people told me I couldn't do it because of my size. I was determined to prove those people wrong."

Ben Wallace is well-known as being one of the best defensive big men in NBA history. His start at the college level came at a Cleveland JUCO, where he played for two seasons and averaged an unthinkable 6.9 blocks per game.

Even so, Wallace moved up to only the Division II level, for Virginia Union University. He averaged a double-double there and led his team to the Division II Final Four.

In the NBA, Wallace played his best years as a member of the Detroit Pistons, where he won his lone NBA championship in 2004. He was a four-time NBA All-Star, a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, and a two-time NBA rebounding leader.

Wallace was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2021.

Dennis Rodman – PF, Cooke County College

Dennis Rodman quote about pain: "I go out there and get my eyes gouged, my nose busted, my body slammed. I love the pain of the game."

Dennis Rodman graduated high school and became a janitor at the airport in Dallas, Texas. After quickly growing eight inches to 6’7″, he joined the basketball team at Cooke County College (now known as North Central Texas College).

Rodman played there for less than a year but nonetheless put up impressive numbers of 17.6 points and 13.3 rebounds per game. He dropped out due to poor academic performance but was able to find success at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, an NAIA school.

At SOSU, Rodman became a three-time NAIA All-American player and led the NAIA in rebounding in back-to-back seasons. He averaged over 15 rebounds per game in his three seasons on campus.

Rodman’s ensuing NBA legacy is mostly known for being a tenacious rebounder on championship-winning teams in Detroit and Chicago. He was a seven-time selection to the NBA All-First Defensive Team, is a Basketball Hall of Famer, and earned the honor of being named onto the league’s 75th-anniversary team.

“Don’t let what other people think decide who you are,” Rodman once said.

Bob McAdoo – C, Vincennes University

One of the greatest scorers in Buffalo Braves (Los Angeles Clippers) history, McAdoo is one of the best basketball players of the 1970s and 80s.

Because he didn’t have the academic metrics to attend Division I schools initially out of high school, McAdoo got his start at Vincennes University in Indiana. In three years though, Vincennes won a NJCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, leading to him joining the Tar Heels of North Carolina.

In fact, he was the only junior college player ever recruited by legendary coach Dean Smith. McAdoo was a part of the 1972 UNC team that made the Final Four.

In the NBA, McAdoo averaged over 30 points per game in three separate seasons with Buffalo, highlighted by winning the NBA MVP award in 1975. Later in his career, he won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Dennis Johnson – PG, Los Angeles Harbor College

One of the best players in Boston Celtics franchise history grew up as one of sixteen children. He didn’t immediately pursue basketball after college, working jobs including ones paying as little as $2.75 an hour to drive forklifts.

But Johnson’s skill in the LA street ball scene got him noticed, and he was discovered by the coach at LA Harbor. After averaging over 18 points and 12 rebounds per game, Johnson led LA Harbor to a junior college state title and started getting looks from some larger schools.

Despite some off-court behavioral issues, he became an elite defender at Pepperdine University.

Johnson played major roles in the NBA for Seattle, Phoenix, and most notably Boston. As a Celtic, he helped raise two championship banners as the starting point guard on the 1980s dynasty teams. He won NBA Finals MVP in 1979 and had his jersey number 3 retired by the Celtics.

READ MORE: How Dennis Johnson Went From Benchwarming High School Senior to 3-Time NBA Champion

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More NBA Players Who Came From JUCO Schools

  • Nate “Tiny” Archibald – PG, Arizona Western Community College
  • Artis Gilmore – C, Gardner-Webb Junior College
  • John Starks – SG, Northern Oklahoma College & Tulsa Junior College
  • Larry Johnson – PF, Odessa College
  • Shawn Marion – SF, Vincennes University
  • Mitch Richmond – SG, Moberly Area Community College
  • Latrell Sprewell – SG, Three Rivers Community College

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Written By

Muhlenberg College alum based in New York City. Bylines at Joker Mag, Elite Sports NY, and The Apple.



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