The Bull Penn: A Ph.D. in hoops

April 25, 2002, midnight | By Ben Penn | 22 years, 1 month ago

When I go to college this fall, I very well could have a class with the starting center on the basketball team. On the surface, people could look at that situation and say the shared class is all we have in common, but we really wouldn't be all that different.

We are both in college for the same reason: to eventually have a successful career and bring home a fat paycheck. It just so happens that my new buddy will be earning his living in the NBA, while I'll be doing, well, something different.

Another slight difference between the star athlete and myself is that I will need a college degree in order to get a high-paying job, whereas my seven-foot friend needs no diploma and can even leave school after a year or two and immediately make millions. In fact, graduating from college would only prevent him from completely devoting himself to improving his game.

Yet many people, failing to see the situation through the eyes of the athlete, started flailing their arms in disgust when the NCAA reported that only 41 percent of men's college basketball players graduated in 1992.

But the report only includes scholarship players who all came into college as high school hoops stars and who all have a shot at eventually playing basketball at the pro level, whether that be the NBA, USBL, or overseas. In other words, basketball is their career.

I'm not saying college basketball players are dumb jocks who couldn't care less about academics; it's just that they are already committed to preparing themselves for the next level of basketball. And while we may only see the athletes on television once or twice a week, four months a year, we don't have access to all the behind-the-scenes work— the grueling practices, the weightlifting sessions, the year-round pick-up games, etc.

I commend the 41 percent who manage to squeeze school into their schedule, but at the same time, maybe these guys never fully developed their fundamentals because they were too concerned about passing a class. Jason Williams, Duke's All-American point guard who will graduate in three years, is a name that is often mentioned as a model for the student athlete.

Jason, maybe if you spent less time in class and more time practicing free throw shooting, you wouldn't have choked at the charity stripe in the NCAA tournament, costing your team a spot in the Final Four.

Some of you may think that the drop-the-books-and-hit-the-hardwood approach could apply to you right now. But it doesn't. First of all, you have to graduate high school in order to go to college, and second of all, only the cream of the crop of high school basketball players will receive D-I athletic scholarships.

The other side to this argument often cites the guys who discover several years after leaving college that basketball is not the right profession for them. If these men have no college diploma, they have nothing to fall back on. But the simple solution is to go back to college, where they will now have no major distractions and can devote themselves to school.

I'll even save a seat for them in class.

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Ben Penn. Ben Penn, a senior in the Communication Arts Program, is thrilled to be taking on the role of managing sports editor for Silver Chips. While holding the position of page editor last year, Ben is proud to say that he was the only person on … More »

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