When Asa McCord finished his high school basketball days at Westlake in 2016, he didn’t have any scholarship offers from Division I programs.
Four years later, however, he was in a different situation as he had multiple offers, including one he really wanted from Utah Valley University, where he officially signed to play on Wednesday.
“I think junior college can be a great way to go,” McCord said in a phone interview on Thursday. “If you have a Division I school you are happy with, I’d go to it, but I think if you’re not sold then I like the idea of betting on yourself and knowing you can go to a junior college, work hard and end up getting something better. I love that you get to go and play at a junior college. A lot of times if you go to a four-year school you sit on the bench — and no one likes to sit on the bench. Everyone is a basketball player because they like to play basketball, not watch. We have our whole lives to do that when we are old. Junior college is a fun atmosphere and I would definitely recommend it.”
He said that because he left the United States to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, playing for a junior college helped him develop his game without the pressure of being at a Division I program.
“I went on my mission to Nicaragua, so I didn’t get to play a lot,” McCord said. “When I came back, I couldn’t even dunk. I had to start over from square one. I started playing and SLCC was a great place to be. They had good coaches who helped me progress. I worked hard and during those two years I was able to get my game back, so it was fun.”
He also explained that junior college basketball has some tremendous players and that will push an athlete to improve.
“Junior college gets an interesting dynamic of people,” McCord said. “You get players who couldn’t get the grades to go to Division-I programs. There are a lot of talented players.”
He also got to experience some impressive successes as he was part of an excellent squad at Salt Lake Community College in 2019-20.
“We had a great year with a super-good team,” McCord said. “We won a bunch of games.”
One of the cool aspects of being a Bruin was being on the same team with former high school rivals like Spencer Johnson (who played at American Fork) and Christian Popoola (who played at Lone Peak for a year).
“Spencer and Christian were both in my region in high school, so I played against both of them,” McCord said. “It was fun to kind of get together and be on the same team. All three of us started, so it was cool to think of how good of a region we were in. Spencer and I had some battles in high school, so it was fun to turn that around and be teammates. You always have a mutual respect for guys you’ve played against, so it was pretty easy to turn that into a friendship when we were on the same team.”
SLCC had a phenomenal year, finishing 29-4 overall and winning the district championship. The Bruins were headed to the NJCAA tournament as the No. 4-seed overall before efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 shut down college athletics across the country.
“The positive side of it was that we ended the season on a 15-game winning streak,” McCord said. “There aren’t a lot of teams who get to do that. We didn’t get to go to the national tournament but we definitely ended the season in a great way. That makes it a lot easier to leave.”
With Johnson signing to play at BYU, McCord’s looking forward to opportunities in coming years to face his friend in a game once again when the Cougars and the Wolverines battle.
“We’re going to play them both years, so that will be really fun,” McCord said. “It will be fun to be in that same area.”
He said it wasn’t a tough decision for him to decide to go to UVU.
“Ever since I went to SLCC, I had my eyes set on going to UVU,” McCord said. “I remember going to their camp from sixth grade through high school, so I had been on that campus. I’ve got a bunch of friends who are down in the area, so I always wanted to go there. Plus my wife goes there, so that definitely made it easier. That’s one of the most important reasons.”
He was even more committed after he got to know Wolverine head coach Mark Madsen.
“Coach Madsen is an awesome guy,” McCord said. “I’m excited to learn from him basketball-wise but also as a man. I want to find out how that guy is so happy and so positive all the time. I want to be more like that. Getting to be around him and all the other coaches is big.”
He’s excited to get the chance to play close to home.
“I have a good amount of family here in Utah and my wife’s family is here,” McCord said. “It will be nice to be close to them. My dad loves watching us play basketball. Life can take you a lot of places, so being able to finish up and stay close to home is great.”
In addition to the official statement from Madsen in the press release announcing McCord’s signing on Wednesday, Madsen also tweeted out from his @madsen_mark Twitter account that “Asa McCord can flat out play. Incredibly excited about him. Welcome aboard big man!”
McCord said the message for the Wolverine staff is that he will be expected to be a scorer and an aggressive rebounder.
“They want me to keep shooting the ball and keep rebounding,” McCord said. “That’s something Coach Madsen loved and watching him play that was something he did. He was the guy who worked his butt off, played super-hard and did a lot of the dirty work. I think that’s something I did a lot at SLCC and he loved that about me. I’m going to keep giving everything I have.”