Saturday, August 27, 2011

Locked out players find UCLA class doors open

Russell, Sean and B Diddies, Reeves in summer school. Photo credit: I saw somewhere kluv took this photo? Thanks to kluv if true.

Locked out players find UCLA class doors open

By Michael Martinez
August 18, 2011

Baron Davis knew he'd be back. First of all, there was the promise he made to his grandmother, and he had no intention of breaking that one.

There was also a simple thirst for knowledge and a need to find out more about the world and his place in it. Davis figured out long ago that there's life after basketball; maybe it was time to start planning for it.

That's what brought him back to college, back to a classroom at UCLA after a 12-year break. With a near-hopeless NBA lockout threatening the start of the next season, Davis is in school – and he's not alone.

Several other former Bruins and current NBA players – Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute – are enrolled in summer school at Westwood and earning credits toward their degrees.

It was a collective decision to return, Davis said. He and Kenny Donaldson, UCLA's assistant director of academic services, encouraged the group to make use of their time by returning. If the lockout is a long one, it just makes good sense.

"I know they all talked about it," Donaldson said. "If there wasn't a lockout, it would be iffy whether all of them would have come back. I think (the lockout) encouraged them, and I think Baron had a big influence."

Davis, the Cleveland Cavaliers guard who has played 12 years in the NBA, had already decided he would get back in the classroom. This summer, he's taken three courses – African-American history 1600-1865, U.S. history 1900-1928 and fundamental screen writing – and is currently enrolled in an American pop culture class with Love, Westbrook and Ariza.

"I'm just building," Davis said. "I think from where I am and where I sit, it's just being a sponge, trying to soak up as much knowledge and meet with as many different people and start to figure out what I want to do."

Davis said he plans to take a full load of classes if the lockout stretches into the fall. He's a history major and a film and television minor and has screenwriting aspirations. He's already working on a script, but not about basketball. It's a comedy.

When he left school after two years to enter the NBA draft, Davis was focused on his playing career. Now that he's older, he appreciates the importance of an education.

"You know what you want," he said. "You know what life is about. You can apply the lessons to what you're living. And I think that's the beauty of going back to school – you want to go back. I'm not doing it because I have to, I'm doing it because I want to. I want to make straight As, and I want to learn what's going on around me. I'm interested in the subjects that I'm taking."

Love, the Minnesota Timberwolves star who left UCLA after one year, said he hopes to become a college coach when he's done playing, so a college degree is a necessity. But it goes beyond that.

"I know it's going to be a lengthy process, but I'm only 22, so I definitely want to get started on it," he said. "Plus, it's a way to get my mind working again and keep sharp. It brings me back on campus around all the regular students and makes me feel like a regular person again, like part of the family."

That's not a bad thing, but most students make note of the celebrity factor pretty quickly.

"People knew who I was, but nobody really paid attention," Davis said of the first time he walked into his African-American history class. "A couple of times people asked to take pictures for their kids or their brother and sister or asked for an autograph. But that was it."

Davis promised his grandmother, Lela Nicholson, that he would return at some point to get his degree, but she passed away in March. It's one of his great regrets that she couldn't see him graduate.

"She always stayed on my case about education," he said. "She never really cared about basketball in my life. She only cared about school and having a solid foundation. That's why I made the promise to her. I wanted her to see me accomplish so much, but I feel like I didn't get an opportunity to do what I needed to do."

Now he does. But it's not just about school. Davis also spends time every summer working with his foundation, Rising Stars of America. The organization conducts an annual youth basketball camp designed to teach ethical and social values to kids from different socio-economic backgrounds.

The camp is over, so Davis is just like every UCLA student, carrying books and rushing to class. In time, he hopes to wear a cap and gown and walk with other graduates who have earned degrees.

"That's what I wanted to do in my life, be a Bruin and graduate from UCLA," he said. "That's more than an honor and a privilege -- not to say that I went there but that I have a degree, and to share that with all the great alumni that come from that school."

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