IT TAKES A VILLAGE
at Texas A&M, the basketball program's commitment to excellence
and growth of its student-athletes carries far beyond the gym
by Erin Brown '15
The Texas A&M men's basketball program strives for success on and off the court each year. Day in and day out, the coaching staff’s goal is to teach their players that with hard work, and belief in themselves, they can achieve anything.
No one can play basketball forever; so what happens after that? What happens when a sport someone dedicates their whole life to is gone? Student-athletes in this program may have an easier time answering that question.
Since Billy Kennedy has taken over as head coach, all but one of his seniors have received a diploma from Texas A&M. The lone senior not to graduate during Kennedy’s tenure, David Loubeau, is currently playing professionally with hopes of one day returning to Texas A&M to receive his diploma.
“Everywhere I’ve been, we’ve been able to graduate our guys, so it’s good to finally catch up here,” Kennedy said, “Most of these guys; their whole world is basketball, basketball, basketball, and academics is second; and for them to find a balance of both, and get it done, they don’t even realize how beneficial it is going to be for them.“
Stressing academic success starts at the very beginning of each player’s journey at Texas A&M.
“I make a commitment to them and their families when I recruit them that we are going to do everything we can to help get them their degree,” Kennedy said. “So when basketball is over, they’ll have something to fall back on and be able to take care of their families. And that’s the biggest thing.”
Kourtney Roberson, a four-year letterman and August 2014 graduate, said the main reason he chose A&M was for academics. Roberson’s older half-brother, Bernard King, also played basketball for the Aggies, but left for the pros prior to walking the stage--making Roberson the first in his family to graduate college.
That's one thing I promised my mom. That I would make her happy and get a college degree.— kourtney roberson (@K_three2Rob) August 14, 2014
With Roberson’s academic success and the encouragement and support of the current coaching staff, King has decided to finish his degree from A&M, and is on track to graduate in 2016. King is one among others that played prior to Kennedy who have been working on finishing their degrees.
Just like any student, support from family makes a big difference in academic success. Although the staff has a special relationship with each one of their players, staying in contact with the parents helps keep everyone on the same page. Some guys who join the team have backgrounds that don’t emphasize academic success, and encouragement from their families back home motivates them to get it done.
“Some will be in class, and look at students to their left and right and think ‘What am I doing here?’,” Kennedy said. “So it takes a lot of people to believe in and invest in them, so they start to believe in themselves.”
There are many resources available to student-athletes at Texas A&M. Study facilities, tutors, required study hall hours and monitored class attendance all help players stay on track and keep up with their classes.
The professors at A&M are very helpful when it comes to working with the student-athletes, understanding students’ busy travel schedules and working with them when they have to miss class or a test. They also keep in contact with the coaches, and together, their efforts make a difference for the athletes.
When players get the opportunity to play professional basketball, whether in the U.S. or overseas, most of them want to take it. So when it comes time for players to make a decision on finishing school or leaving for basketball, it is easier for the players to justify staying when they are so close to graduating.
Fabyon Harris spent two of his four collegiate years in Aggieland, and this August walked the stage and received his degree. Thanks to the amount of hours he took each summer, Harris was able to graduate and accept an offer to pursue his basketball career overseas.
Paul Stoltzfus and Barry Davis both have important roles in players’ overall success. Stoltzfus is the team’s Scholastic Supervisor and Davis is the program’s Director of Student-Athlete Development. Between Stoltzfus and Davis, they guide and push the athletes to be the best they can be off the court and in the classroom.
“Coach Davis always told me I can do anything I put my mind to,” Roberson said.
Athletics Director Eric Hyman also takes special interest in the student-athlete, as evidenced by Roberson and Harris. He embraced them and helped take them to another level, teaching them how to accept responsibility.
The encouragement from each of these people affects their mindset everyday--helping student-athletes get to a point of belief that having a good attitude, work ethic, and character is the core of being successful.
Without the coaching staff, player’s families, faculty, professors, and resources A&M has to offer, this program couldn’t work. Each area is a piece of the puzzle that creates a successful academic program.
“When I go to their graduation, and see them walk the stage, it just makes me thankful for all the help we have here,” Kennedy said.
Reflecting on an old proverb Kennedy adds, “It takes a Village to raise a child.”
From day one the players and their families put their trust in this school, the program and its staff. When there are success stories about players like Roberson and Harris, it makes keeping that initial commitment even more special for the men’s basketball staff in Aggieland.
It takes a village, and that’s what Texas A&M has.