In all, 84 Kansas University student-athletes are eligible today to stroll down Campanile Hill in cap and gown and enter Memorial Stadium for 2006 graduation ceremonies.
Three of the 84 are men's basketball players - Christian Moody, Moulaye Niang and Stephen Vinson.
All but Vinson will take part in festivities; the former Lawrence High standout will be lounging on a beach somewhere far away, honeymooning with wife Anna.
"These are great young men, who take care of business in the classroom, take care of responsibilities. They are bright. They have goals. It's been a pleasure to work with them," said Paul Buskirk, KU associate athletic director/student support services.
¢ Moody, of Asheville, N.C., is a pre-med major with designs on a career in medicine. More schooling is to come for KU's graduate-scholarship-award winner after he visits China this summer as a member of Athletes in Action's all-star basketball team.
¢ Vinson, of Lawrence, is a communications major who this summer will become a program minister at the Focus on the Family Institute in Colorado Springs.
¢ Niang, of Senegal, West Africa, played for the Jayhawks three years, working as a student assistant this past season because of back problems. He is a business finance major who will complete his final nine hours of course work next semester, then pursue a job in the financial field, possibly banking. All students who will complete graduation requirements in December are invited to walk the hill the prior May.
The talented trio earned academic all-Big 12 Conference mention this past spring.
Moody was a three-time honoree.
"I don't know if very many times a program had four seniors in its class where one (Jeff Hawkins, communications) graduated the year prior and the other three all made the all-academic team as seniors," KU coach Bill Self said.
Hawkins, a native of Kansas City, Kan., took part in graduation ceremonies in May.
"Few programs have had guys that represented themselves as well in as these guys," Self added.
Niang, who arrived at KU four years ago as a shy person with limited use of the English language after spending two years at a San Diego-area high school, said he was happy to be part of such an esteemed hoops graduating class.
"I would think we're one of the smartest groups of guys (KU has had)," Niang said. "We are good students and proud of that. It's a big relief to graduate. It's a big thing in life. We get to move on with life. I feel fortunate I was given an opportunity to get an education. I've taken advantage of that. Some people are given a chance and not gotten it done. I feel good that I've done what it takes to graduate."
Niang, who said his toughest class at KU was "Statistics," was asked to provide advice to future athletes hoping to earn a degree at KU.
"Just stay on top of your books," Niang said. "Go to school. Stay in school. Do your assignments, go to class and graduate."
Niang chuckled when asked if he enjoyed the classroom experience.
"Nobody likes class around here, trust me," Niang said. "But you've got to do it. It's something you've got to do - you've got to go every day. It's like somebody who has a job. You don't want to go every day, right? But you go every day. Same with class."
Niang said he was appreciative of the work of Buskirk and Scott Ward, associate director of degree and career counseling/student support services, who helps with course scheduling, academic progress monitoring and individual counseling.
"It's all about the process of learning," Niang said. "When you want to talk (to somebody in student support), you don't have to wait."
Buskirk will acknowledge all 84 KU athletes at a reception before graduation today.
"Given what they have to invest to compete and thrive on the athletic side : to finish what they started upon academically, earning honors upon honors, it's absolutely amazing," Buskirk said. "It is by far the finest moment in academic support to watch these student-athletes walk down the hill. These same students a few years ago were on campus wide-eyed and scared and full of hope. To see them graduate, we all applaud them."