Jayhawks earn top ranking for graduates

Most, but not all, of the talk at last year’s Final Four was about college basketball.

Kansas graduated 64 percent of its players from the last NCAA reporting period, followed by Indiana (43 percent), Maryland (19) and Oklahoma (0).

The Jayhawks were second of all programs in the 2002 Sweet 16, trailing only Duke, which graduated 73 percent. Kentucky was third, well behind KU at 55 percent.

Compared to other Big 12 Conference schools, KU’s 64 percent total (11 of 15 freshmen who entered from 1991-92 through 1994-95 graduated) ranked first last year, followed by Iowa State (56 percent), Kansas State (43), Texas (40), Baylor (36), Oklahoma State (33) and Nebraska (33), Texas A&M (31), Texas Tech (27), Missouri (13), Colorado (12) and Oklahoma (0).

“I am very proud of that, yes, there is no question about that,” Kansas coach Roy Williams said.

“I know we recruit the kind of kid education is important to. I think it’s our job to emphasize it and provide the necessary help they may need — the attention to studies, providing tutorial help, the relaxation of practice time, the changes in practice time, the change in travel times — whatever we can do to help the kids academically.

“But the bottom line is basically they (players) should feel good about it. They are the ones who have to do the work.”

Williams will feel even better about figures made public during the 2002-03 school year.

KU’s graduation rate from entering classes from 1992 through ’95 is 70 percent (seven of 10 graduated). The total will rise to 73 percent (eight of 11) the following year as calculated from the classes of 1993-96.

Chancellor approves

The rates aren’t half bad.

“The thing about Roy and KU basketball is its success speaks for itself,” KU chancellor Robert Hemenway said. “Not just on the court and off, but in the classroom and in the way the student-athletes and coaches live their lives.

“We love to go to Allen Fieldhouse and see the Jayhawks win, but one thing we feel extremely proud of is coach Williams’ teams do things the right way.”

The right way has shown on the scoreboard — KU has won more than 80 percent of its games under Williams — and in the cap-and-gown fitting room. Counting every person who has played for Williams since 1988-89 through last year’s senior class, 70 percent will have graduated or are scheduled to graduate by the end of this school year.

This does not include Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich and Drew Gooden, although Hinrich and Collison should graduate this May. Gooden is making progress, taking nine hours of classes this semester as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies.

“Coach Williams stresses academics as much as any coach I’ve heard of just in terms of making sure we are in class, making sure we are doing well,” Collison said. “You can tell he doesn’t do it because he wants his program to look good. He really is concerned. He is always asking about academics, setting up tutors, making sure people have tutors.

“He knows what kids he needs to work with more, put more pressure on. He’ll also let people go on their own if they prove they can get it done.”

Williams and Wayne Walden, KU’s director of degree and career counseling/student support services, monitor all first-year KU players closely. The structure is relaxed a bit if — and only if — the players prove serious about their studies.

“We do want the student to drive the system after that first year, but the first year we will require a certain number of hours of tutoring. We want them to get off to a good start,” Walden said.

“As long as they can show they can do the work and take initiative, we want them driving the system. Until then, we’re going to require certain things.”

Monitoring the players

All players are required to meet with Walden once a week their initial year at Kansas.

“We set short-term goals to get assignments done,” Walden said. “The second year I meet with them some, not every week. I meet to monitor their progress. With newcomers, we will always check them first semester. Beyond that it’s students we feel we need to check.”

KU coaches actually will check to see if Jayhawks are attending class.

“Coach Williams provides some discipline there (for those caught skipping class),” Walden said. “You talk about coach Williams and his emphasis on academics … he is the best as far as the kids he brings in, the emphasis he puts on academics and how much he cares for them as people.”

To Williams it’s about people more than numbers, which is important because the numbers concerning grad rates can be skewed. At one time, the NCAA figured its rate on the percentage of players that graduated in a six-year period from just one recruiting class.

If a school had one player in that recruiting class, the school’s basketball program could have a somewhat misleading rate of 100 percent if that one player graduated, or zero percent if he didn’t.

A few years ago, the NCAA decided to measure grad rates by monitoring a six-year period of four incoming classes of players.

“With one freshman, 100 percent looks like you did a fantastic job or zero percent looks like you did nothing and you are talking about just one person,” Walden said.

“Nick Bradford, who is in the entering class of âÂÂ’96, was the only one in his class. He graduated. So if we did it the old way, 100 percent would look like we did a fantastic job, but it’s just one person. The four-year average is a much better representation.”

System still not perfect

If a player transfers from a school, he is currently counted as a person who did not graduate, even if at the time of the transfer he was heading toward a degree. Ditto for players who left college for the NBA, yet did not earn a degree in six years.

“We are looking at a way to measure graduation rates that is fair,” said Hemenway, chair of the NCAA Division I board of directors. “One year we had Jerod Haase and Jacque Vaughn as Academic All-Americans and both graduating. We could only count Jacque toward our graduation rate because Jerod was a transfer.”

Incoming transfers like Haase, who spent four years at KU after arriving from Cal-Berkeley, also cannot count toward graduation success.

“Initial eligibility, progress toward a degree and fair measurement of graduation rates is something the board is working hard on along with academic consultants,” Hemenway said.

In the meantime, Williams and Walden have mixed emotions about KU’s current graduation performance.

“Until it’s 100 percent I’ll never be completely satisfied,” Walden said, while admitting that some players like Paul Pierce, who will receive up to $60 million the next six years in the NBA, do not need a degree. “Of course we want all our kids to graduate.”

Williams agreed.

“I am proud of what we’re doing. At the same time, I have my degree and they don’t give me little red stars to put around the corners of mine every time one of my players get a degree. My diploma stays the same,” Williams said.

“I take every kid on a campus visit into my home. I take them in my office. It has a lot of basketball stuff and one thing in there is my diploma. I show them my diploma and ask them to look around the edges and see if there are any red stars in my diploma for helping you graduate. I tell them, âÂÂ’I get nothing, but you can get one of these.'”

Yet Williams knows his players must succeed on the court.

“I think no doubt my job is to win basketball games. If I don’t win enough basketball games, graduation rate is not going to save me from being fired,” he said. “I do think the people in Kansas really do want our players to be serious about their education and serious about getting their degree. That’s the kind of program I’m very comfortable in.”