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With only a short drive from Mt. Clemens To Port Huron where St. Clair Community College is, Ta’Rayle Cates was preparing for his career as a basketball player for the next two years.

Cates had just graduated high school and was a JUCO product in the making. As a point guard, Cates always felt his game was good enough for the Division 1 or 2 route, but he ended up taking a different path. But this path didn’t defer his dreams of playing at the next level— it prepared him.

“Being a juco product is something I take pride in,” he says. “Attending a junior college was one of the best decisions I made not only athletically, it helped me academically, and help build my character off the court. At the junior college level its basically what you make it, as a athlete you have to put the work in to get to the next level.”

In today’s society, attending a JUCO is always associated with negative annotations; including athletes who play at these colleges being labeled as  “university rejects” or being seen as “not good enough.” Even Ta’Rayle has witnessed these negative perceptions and is here to erase the stigma behind it.

“Knocking JUCO’s is something I see on the daily bases. I see people getting laughed at for committing to a junior college or getting bashed,” says Cates. “My advice for those student athletes that are or will be attending junior college is simple: Never give up and never get discouraged. Just stay focused and trust the process, but most importantly believe and have faith in yourself.”

A JUCO or Junior College is a post-secondary educational institution designed to prepare students for skilled trades or to transition to another college with more advanced academics and athletics. Students typically attend junior colleges for 1–3 years. For athletes in particular, JUCO’s prepare them physically, mentally to go to the next level while also helping them meet the grade criteria.

“Attending junior college helped me focused a lot more towards my academics, especially coming from a high school that lacked a good education system I always struggled academically, but during my two years of junior college it help strengthened my study habits.”

But besides the most obvious benefits of attending these small colleges, there are also other perks that Ta’Ryle has experienced and benefited from; one of those was learning to be humble.

“Juco was very beneficial for my journey. My first year of junior college was kind of a humbling experience,” he says. “I came in with a big head, thinking that I was too good to play at this level but that mindset changed quickly.”

And it was after gaining humility and doing some hard work that Ta’Ryle was offered a more advanced opportunity to play ball. After two long years, the Mt. Clemens native was offered to play basketball for Redeemer College in Hamilton, Ontario in Canada.

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“I emailed numerous of coaches begging for an opportunity. Some responded some didn’t, but the school that I will be attending the coaching staff showed the most interest, they were honest and loyal.”

Now that Ta’Ryle is moving further down the path to accomplish his dreams of playing basketball professionally, he’s faced with more challenges and opportunities to better his game.

“The transition is all mental. The game is a lot faster and more physical now, so now that I'm here I have to work twice as hard.”

By Cates using his time at a JUCO as a stepping stone, he’s become one of the few to help paint a positive light on JUCO’s.

Cates is set to start playing at the international university on September 28th, 2018. He’ll be starting in his original position as point guard for the Redeemer Royals.