The Student Athlete: An Ideal Recruit

From a young age, the dreams begin--dreams of playing for the storied program 5,000 miles away from home, or for the hometown team 5 blocks down the street. Through hard work and dedication, players sacrifice their bodies and time to physically prepare for greatness. Hours spent in the gym, shooting hundreds of shots instead of watching television with friends. Hours allocated to studying game film and searching for weaknesses in their skillset. All of this time and effort adds up, creating the ideal basketball player--a player that college coaches dream of signing. Yet, without equal effort in the classroom, these dreams vanish.

Yes, what recruits love to do is play basketball. Otherwise, why waste the time on the self-improvement necessary to raise their level of play? Playing basketball is the goal, but like lifting weights, practicing free throws, and studying game film, applying oneself in the classroom is another necessary sacrifice in order to achieve the dream of playing college basketball.

While not always the most enjoyable aspect of the process, performing well in school directly and indirectly benefits aspiring college athletes. Firstly, any recruits that do not meet NCAA academic standards cannot compete, demonstrating that a minimum level of commitment in the classroom is necessary to have a future in college basketball. Currently, Division I and II colleges have minimum standards assigned by the NCAA while Division III programs assign standards based on their own discretion. It is paramount to be thoroughly familiar with these academic standards in order to be an ideal recruit.

With solid academic performance, coaches gain confidence during the recruiting process and can focus on a recruit's physical attributes and basketball IQ rather than academic struggles. As a result, a studious recruit is more desirable.

Coaches and their respective programs have come under fire for illegal recruiting. Look no further than the actions of Kelvin Sampson, former head coach at Oklahoma and Indiana, who drew a five-year ban from the NCAA for illegal phone calls to recruits. Sampson's misconduct may not involve academic dishonesty, but the microscope has zeroed-in on coaches nonetheless.

Similar to Sampson's infractions, the NCAA sanctioned Memphis after its investigation revealed that Derrick Rose's score on his SAT was illegally altered. If discovered earlier, he would have been ineligible to play basketball during his freshman season. The university suffered as the NCAA vacated Memphis' 2007-2008 run to the NCAA Championship Game. Although Rose did not suffer the consequences of his actions, he came very close. As a recruit, it is unwise to take risks like this.

Not even the brightest student athletes could successfully cheat without repercussions. Harvard forced 70 members of a 279 student class to leave the university after an investigation revealed that potentially half of the class cheated on the course's final exam.  Many of the students who were expelled were athletes, including members of the basketball team.

These instances of academic dishonesty are perplexing. Why jeopardize a basketball career by neglecting coursework? Coaches will no longer risk the health of their program to hide academic dishonesty or inadequacy, so why should recruits search for a shortcut? Why not work honestly instead?

By working responsibly in the classroom, coaches gain respect for a recruit's effort and believe this dedication translates onto the basketball court. Responsibility earns respect and could prove the difference in a close competition for playing time as well. As the old, Biblical adage from Luke 16:10 states "[whoever] can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much". Prove responsibility in the classroom and earn the trust of coaches on the court.

Like academics, injury affects athletes of all sports. Marcus Dupree, a legendary football player, comes to mind. Featured on ESPN's series 30 for 30 in 2010, Dupree was a standout running back who was coveted by every college in the nation. His unique combination of speed and strength was remarkable. However, after 17 games and a serious concussion at Oklahoma, Dupree's life was forever changed. After choosing to leave Oklahoma, he enrolled at Ole Miss, but was deemed ineligible to play football for a year. Upon hearing this news, he sought to find an exception that would allow him to play professional football. Shortly thereafter, in 1984, he signed with the New Orleans Breakers of the USFL for a $6 million contract over five years. Tragedy struck in his second season when Dupree severely injured his knee. While he recovered, Dupree examined the state of his finances, which he had left in the hands of a trusted friend. Shockingly, Dupree learned that his friend had manipulated his earnings, leaving him with nothing. Dupree moved forward, stunned with his current position in life. When last asked, Dupree said that he found himself in-between jobs.

Ultimately, respecting academic commitments serves as insurance. In life, nothing is guaranteed, especially health. Working diligently and honestly inside the classroom gives recruits other options besides sports. While Nerlens Noel was drafted in the NBA--despite his knee injury--his situation is an anomaly. Most players are not so fortunate to suffer injury and still realize their dreams. A 2009 report from Sports Illustrated estimated that 60% of professional NBA players, injured or healthy, declare bankruptcy within five years of retirement. If properly educated, players might save themselves such uncertainty and turmoil.

So, what does a successful, student athlete look like? Exhibit A: Toby Gerhart, the former standout running back at Stanford. The double major in Management Science and Engineering, played baseball and football for Stanford, registering for 21 course credits during his senior football season. In the same season, Gerhart was the runner-up in the 2009 Heisman Trophy race.

Another excellent example of a student athlete presents itself in the case of Domonique Foxworth. Throughout his career Foxworth demonstrated that an athlete's success in the classroom only compliments their accomplishments in competition. The former cornerback for the Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons, and Baltimore Ravens found success on the football field, tallying 227 tackles, forcing 3 fumbles, and intercepting 8 passes over his professional career. Equally as important, Foxworth values his mind and seeks to protect the rights of football players through his service as President of the National Football League' Players Association (NFLPA). After earning two degrees at Maryland, one in American Studies and the other in Journalism, Foxworth completed multiple classes in economics, statistics, and operations at Loyola Maryland. In the fall, Foxworth will begin a graduate program at Harvard's School of Business to further advance his career.

So, what does all of this mean for recruits? It shows how injuries change lives. It proves that having a sound body and mind are equally valuable. Ultimately, it demonstrates that solid academic performance is essential to any college career--let alone a professional career.

At Loyola Maryland, there is a Latin phrase used that recruits would be wise to adopt: cura personalis, which means "care for the whole person".

Be like Toby Gerhart: challenge yourself academically and in competition. Be like Domonique Foxworth: study, excel in the classroom, and enjoy a successful career--both academically and in the workplace. Recruits, care for the whole person. Good things will follow.


For more information, check out the eligibility toolkits supplied by the NCAA for Division I and Division II recruits as well as the websites for Division III programs of interest.