'Pomp and Circumstance' Becoming a Familiar Tune for NBA Players
By: Talia Bargil
Literally days before Royal Ivey headed to Oklahoma City to begin training camp, and just weeks before he turned the big 3-0, the 6’3” guard achieved a tremendous accomplishment for which he will always be proud.
In his black satin cap and gown, Ivey, in his eighth NBA season, made the traditional graduation march across the stage at the University of Texas at Austin to receive his college diploma on Dec. 3. A goal he set for himself after choosing to take incompletes in his final college semester to focus on preparing for the 2004 NBA Draft, Ivey has spent several off-seasons since working toward his degree.
Making it all the more meaningful, Ivey shared the graduation ceremony with his NBA peer Maurice Evans, 33, who also earned his college degree on the very same day.
As many current NBA players set their sights on going back to school during or immediately following their playing careers, this past off-season may have been a record, with nearly 50 players taking courses at universities throughout the country. Among those include Stephen Curry (Davidson College); Ekpe Udoh (Baylor University); Marvin Williams (University of North Carolina); Jodie Meeks (University of Kentucky); Baron Davis (UCLA); Derrick Williams (University of Arizona); Tristan Thompson (University of Texas); Russell Westbrook (UCLA); Kevin Love (UCLA); Trevor Ariza (UCLA); Luc Mbah a Moute (UCLA); Anthony Randolph (Louisiana State University); Kyrie Irving (Duke); MarShon Brooks (Providence College); Brandon Knight (University of Kentucky); and Jeff Green (Georgetown University).
Through the NBPA/NBA’s Career Development Program, which provides NBA players with the essential skills, education and resources to achieve success in their careers off the court, now and in the future, many of the aforementioned players received assistance in navigating the going back to school process.
NBPA.com’s Talia Bargil sat down with Ivey to hear more about his experience:
Q: Congratulations on your college graduation! What was going through your head as you walked across the stage wearing your cap and gown?
A: I was thinking, “‘I worked this hard for two seconds of fame!?’” Just kidding! A lot of things were going through my mind…I was thinking about how I finally completed my past, how that was the finish line and I accomplished something I set out to do. I was very proud of myself for getting it done. When I walked across the stage, I threw up my arms, and the audience gave me a round of applause.
Q: How long have you been working toward this degree? Why was this the summer you set out to complete your coursework and get that degree?
A: I came back to Austin periodically, for about three summers and one fall semester. It was ironic because I was taking the second session of summer school this year, and when I finished it, my academic advisor said I only had three more classes left. When I heard that, I knew I had to buckle down and get it done. Due to the lockout, I was able to attend the full fall semester. My classes ended on Dec. 2, I graduated on Dec. 3, and we found out that we were going back to work a few days before that. It was great timing! I couldn’t control the timing, but it all worked out for me!
Q: So you earned your degree in Applied Learning & Development/Youth & Community Studies with a minor in social work? How did you select that path?
A: My parents are both educators, my grandmothers were both teachers, and I think that’s my passion…teaching children, being around the youth. I wanted to choose education. I didn’t know I’d be an education major until my junior or senior year, but I really enjoy it.
Q: Did you attend classes on campus? What was it like being a student again?
A: Yes, I attended classes on campus in Austin Monday through Friday – I had two classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and one class on Tuesday and Thursday. I was living like a nomad. I stayed with my mentor for a month, and then lived with a friend – sleeping on an air mattress –for four months.
It was a funny feeling being a student again. For once, I wasn’t a student-athlete, so all I had to focus on was my schoolwork. But I did feel like an old guy going to college with all these younger kids. I usually put on my headphones and kept it moving. Sometimes I’d wear sunglasses if I were trying to be incognito!
Before the session began, my academic advisor told me I was going to have a bunch of the freshman basketball players in my piano class, an arts class. At first I wasn’t too excited about that, but then I started talking to them about basketball, about life. I monitored them to make sure they were punctual and getting their work done. It ended up being a good experience to be around those guys everyday. I learned a lot, and they learned a lot from me. It was a win-win situation.
Q: Looking back, how do you feel about the decision to take incompletes your senior year to focus on draft preparation as opposed to finishing up back when you were a college senior?
A: No regrets. This is the way it was supposed to go down, and it worked out for the best. I was on a 10-year plan, and I got it done in eight years. It was a decision I made, and I had to deal with that decision. My mom was not happy about it at the time, but I was a grown man and I chose that decision. It all paid off.
Q: What advice do you have for other players who are interested in getting their college degree?
A: Go back to school; get it done little by little. The analogy I use is that it’s like a big block of ice. You can’t get it to go away all at once, you have to chip away at it little by little. The more you go back and take classes, the more confidence you gain and the easier it is. Before you know it, you will be done.
Maurice Evans did the same thing, and I modeled my situation after his…taking some online courses, and using my time in the summer to go back on campus.
Q: You just turned 30…is this an extra special milestone birthday knowing that you have reached an important goal you set for yourself?
A: I knew I had to get my degree before 30, and I got it when I was 29! It’s a big accomplishment, and I am elated. I had a game plan, and now that I’m finally done, I can move on to different aspects in my life with a clear and open mind. It was perfect timing.