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What is Basketball Varsity?

A basketball varsity is the main athletic team that represents the school in basketball leagues. Varsity teams vary from high school, college, or university. A member of the varsity basketball team is called a varsity player.

Initially, tall students are being recruited for the basketball varsity team. It’s pretty basic that the taller you are, the better your chance at joining the basketball team.

From a pool of tall players, they test which among them are suited for the main squad.

Basketball varsity teams compete against one another to determine which school is the best in the region. It could be by city, by state, or even on a national level.

Varsity teams are grouped into conferences to designate which schools will compete regularly against each other.

Let’s explore the aspects of basketball varsity a little deeper.


What does the word Varsity mean?

The word varsity is derived from the altered and shortened word ‘university.’ (1) According to the dictionary, the word varsity is the principal squad representing a university, college, school, or club. Any athletic team representing the school in a sporting event is considered varsity.

Being a member of the varsity team means you are considered one of the best in your school.

Examples of varsity players are members of the teams you see in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The most popular varsity rivalry in basketball is the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils (2).

What does Varsity mean in High School?

While the NCAA hosts the best varsity players in college or university, high school varsity is a bit younger.

High school varsity teams are represented by students in grades 11 or 12.

In basketball, the most popular high school varsity game is the McDonald’s All-American Game (3). It featured some of the most promising players in the country that eventually became Hall of Fame material.

Legends in the National Basketball Association (NBA) such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant all played in this game.

What is the Difference between JV and Varsity Basketball?

While varsity basketball showcases the ‘A-Team’, JV (Junior Varsity) is more of a pool of players who are groomed to join the main varsity squad.

To put things in perspective, the varsity basketball team is the NBA, while the JV is the G-League.

JV basically stands for Junior Varsity. Members of the JV basketball team are not considered the main players of their club.

Most JV players are freshmen and sophomores in high school. Because of their inexperience, their skills need to be honed first at a JV level.

Once they prove their worth, they get promoted to the varsity team.

But make no mistake about it. Even if you’re a member of the JV squad, that doesn’t make you less of a player. It means you’re one step closer to become a basketball varsity player.

Can you be a JV as a Senior?

As long as you’re not yet skilled enough for the big leagues, you can still be a JV even if you’re a senior. In fact, seniors who are still part of the JV squad are considered as the team’s mentors.

If you’re a senior and still part of the JV team, you can use that as a way to polish your coaching skills, in case you go after that career path.

However, it’s rare to see a senior JV nowadays. Their experience is considered too valuable to miss an opportunity with other varsity teams.

They mostly end up signing with other schools instead. You will still see senior JV students, but not likely at big-name colleges and universities.

NCAA Basketball Varsity Teams

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is considered the top basketball varsity tournament in the world. It is the home of the best college basketball varsity players in the United States.

The NCAA is separated by divisions first. The lower the division number, the better the competition.

For example, the NCAA Division I tournament features 68 of the best college varsity basketball teams in the US.

If you appear in the NCAA tournament, it means your team was good enough to qualify in your respective conference.

Most of these schools came from subdivided conferences, also known as Mid-major teams. These basketball varsity teams came from the following conferences:

Pac-12 Conference

The Pacific 12 Conference, or more popularly known as the Pac-12 Conference, consists of teams that are located in the Pacific region of the United States.

The ten most successful Pac-12 basketball varsity teams are (corresponded by the number of Pac-12 titles, followed by the numbers of NCAA championships):

1. University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Bruins – 31 Pac-12 titles, 11 NCAA championships
2. Arizona Wildcats – 16, 1
3. University of California Bears – 15, 1
T-4. Washington Huskies – 12, 0
T-4. Oregon State Beavers – 12, 0
6. Stanford Cardinals – 11, 1
7. Oregon Ducks – 7, 1
8. University of Southern California (USC) Trojans – 7, 0
9. Washington State Cougars – 2, 0
10. Utah Utes – 0, 1

Notable players who played in the Pac-12 Conference are Lew Alcindor (later as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Bill Walton, and Russell Westbrook.

Big Ten Men’s Basketball Conference

The Big Ten Men’s Basketball Conference is comprised of mostly schools from the Central region of the US.

The following schools have enjoyed the most success in the Big Ten:

1. Michigan State Spartans – 6 titles
2. Ohio State Buckeyes – 5
T-3. Michigan Wolverines – 3
T-3. Wisconsin Badgers – 3
T-5. Illinois Fighting Illini – 2
T-5. Iowa Hawkeyes – 2
7. Purdue Boiler Makers – 1
T-8. Minnesota Golden Gophers – 0
T-8. Indiana Hoosiers – 0
T-8. Penn State Nittany Lions – 0

Notable players in the Big Ten Conference are Isiah Thomas, Chris Webber, Magic Johnson, and Draymond Green.

Atlantic 10 Conference

Similar to the Pac-12, the Atlantic 10 Conference consists of basketball varsity teams in the Atlantic region of the country.

The ten most decorated teams in the Atlantic 10 are the following:

1. Temple Owls – 9 championships
2. University of Massachusettes (UMass) Minutemen – 5
T-3. Xavier Musketeers – 4
T-3. St. Joseph’s Hawks – 4
T-5. Villanova Wildcats – 2
T-5. Pittsburgh Panthers – 2
T-5. West Virginia Mountaineers – 2
T-5. Rutgers Scarlet Knights – 2
T-5. George Washington Colonials – 2
T-5. Rhode Island Rams – 2
T-5. Saint Louis Billikens – 2

The most notable players who played in the Atlantic 10 Conference are Julius Erving, David West, and Marcus Camby. Compared to other conferences, the Atlantic 10 is relatively shallow.

Ivy League Basketball

As the name suggests, this conference is host to the Ivy League schools in America.

While they are considered as having the best-ranked educational institutions in the world, their athletic success couldn’t match their scholastic achievements.

There are only eight teams in the Ivy League. However, none of those teams have won a national title in basketball so far. Some of these teams were good enough to make it to the NCAA tournament.

The Ivy League consists of the following basketball varsity teams, arranged by the number of NCAA tournament appearances:

1. Princeton Tigers – 25 NCAA appearances
2. Pennsylvania Quakers – 24
3. Dartmouth Big Green – 7
T-4. Cornell Big Red – 5
T-4. Harvard Crimson – 5
T-4. Yale Bulldogs – 5
7. Columbia Lions – 3
8. Brown Bears – 2

Notable players who were Ivy League basketball varsity members are Jeremy Lin, Bill Bradley, and Geoff Petrie.

What’s Next after Basketball Varsity?

after basketball varsity

Most basketball varsity players hone their skills in the NCAA, to prepare themselves for the big jump to the National Basketball Association (NBA).

This is more important now than ever before, as NBA hopefuls are required to have at least one year removed from high school before becoming eligible for the NBA draft.

While some aspirants opt to play overseas as a professional basketball player, most skilled prospects consider a one-and-done deal in the NCAA.

Most superstars today have gone that route. Players like Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Zion Williamson, and Kyrie Irving have all played one year in college before fulfilling their dreams of becoming an NBA superstar.

Basketball varsity is definitely a stepping stone if your career path is headed to the NBA.

Greatness starts with high school basketball varsity, polished in college, and showcased on a professional level.


1. Merriam-Webster Definition of Varsity:
2. The rivalry between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils:
3. McDonald’s All-American Basketball:

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