Alex Byers: Hobbs has the brains to call for new academic facility

Ever watched a collegiate sporting event on TV for more than five minutes? You’ve probably seen this commercial:

A businessman dribbles to the free-throw line. He passes to a police officer on the wing. She throws an alley-oop pass to a doctor, who promptly slams the ball through the hoop.

What’s going on? It’s an NCAA public service announcement acknowledging the academic endeavors of the thousands of collegiate athletes. As the television spot says, “there are more than 380,000 NCAA student-athletes – and most of them go pro in something other than sports.”

Every time that spot airs, collegiate sports fans across America groan in unison, “Who cares? Let’s get back to the game. That’s what matters.”

Right?

Wrong. Too often we focus solely on the athletic pursuits of the student-athletes we follow when we should be concerned with the exact opposite. Fortunately, GW men’s basketball head coach Karl Hobbs seems to want to turn that around.

When word of a possible donation to the athletic department surfaced last September, Hobbs told The Hatchet his top priority for the renovations was building a “world-class academic facility.” At first, the comment seemed like a surprising one – far from the more predictable request for more seating or an improved main area.

But Hobbs’ comment showed he understands that his players are more than basketball machines. They are students, too – students who need to get passing grades at the same time they’re throwing no-look passes.

“When you look at what we’re using now, it’s inadequate for our student-athletes,” Hobbs said last week after more details about the renovations were released. “Our guys really struggle in that small space they’re using. These are like 6-foot-8, 6-foot-9 guys and they’re trying to focus and study.”

It’s comforting knowing that GW’s basketball coach cares about more than how many points a player scores in four years on a basketball court.

To be sure, Hobbs knows a new academic facility would do more than give his guys a better chance to get good grades – it would be a handy recruiting tool as well. And it’s also worth noting that last year Hobbs’ squad saw senior Maureece Rice leave school (by all accounts without a diploma) just weeks before he was set to graduate.

But while one player leaves school without graduating, others are walking across an improbable Commencement stage. Like graduate Regis Koundjia, born in the Central African Republic, or current sophomore and Nigerian-born Joseph Katuka, who is slated to graduate in 2011. Both will come out of school with vastly more opportunities than if they hadn’t gotten a diploma.

And it’s not just Hobbs’ team reaping the benefits of college degrees. Current women’s basketball seniors Jazmine and Jessica Adair grew up in a part of Washington where the median household income is just barely more than $25,000, according to the most recent census statistics. Think their college experience is going to expand their horizons? No doubt.

Hobbs is on the right track. By supporting academics in addition to athletics, he’s showing he knows what’s going to be most useful after school.

Smart guy. He must have learned that in college.

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