The Epitome of the STUDENT-athlete: It’s the RAK!!

Come on
Ha hey yo stop playin man
This is real serious
Ha… It’s the Roc… yeah yo

Jay-Z, “Guns & Roses”

 

Black collegiate student-athletes should strive to be like Syracuse Superstar Rakeem Christmas. He has blazed a trail that should be followed. He represents all that “could be and should be” in collegiate athletics.

Rakeem GraduateSyracuse Graduate, Rakeem Christmas

For the most part, collegiate Football and Basketball fans either don’t know or don’t care about the dismal academic outcomes for black male student-athletes. They acknowledge and loudly applaud their performances in jam-packed stadiums and arenas while ignoring the cold hard fact that half of them will never earn a degree. Within ivory towers across the country, there’s a largely unspoken acceptance among administrators and faculty of black athletes as unconscious accomplices in a naked race for exponentially expanding athletic revenues.

To a considerable extent, black male student-athletes are not viewed as worthy members of learning communities within academic institutions. They are modern-day gladiators, merely entertainers for the rest of the campus community and well-heeled alums.

Stats don’t lie… People do…

Black men among the top 25 BCS schools represent 3 percent of their student bodies but 60 percent of the football players. The performances of 3 percent in football and basketball contests generate hundreds of millions, perhaps even, billions of dollars for NCAA and their respective schools on an annual basis. These revenue streams have evolved into veritable “Nile rivers” of cash.

cardale-jones

Cardale Jones, Quarterback of Ohio State’s National Champion Football Team

Let’s take just a cursory glance at the top lines for NCAA football and basketball. On the gridiron, in 2014, the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC each drew a baseline amount of approximately $50 million in the first year of a 12-year contract. The other five FBS-level leagues will split $75 million. The “BIG” football schools are in the midst of an unprecedented windfall that’s more than five times greater than their combined payday in 2013.

According to Bill Hancock, the College Football Playoff’s executive director, “It’s good for everybody… There’s more money for everybody.” One cannot dispute his assertions, the BCS schools and a few other major conferences have put forth proposals to provide athletes with stipends, to allow athletes to borrow money to obtain injury insurance and to prohibit schools from pulling scholarships from athletes due to injury or poor performance.

They can certainly afford to make these concessions to the players.

USA TODAY Sports has reported that BCS football playoff television revenue will average at least $470 million annually over the life of the contract. Ticket and merchandising sales and sponsorship deals could add $40-50 million annually, on average.

The NCAA makes even more marketing and selling the performances of it’s basketball players.

It is very likely that within the next 48 months, the NCAA will surpass a billion dollars in annual revenue. The exponential revenue growth is a direct result of lucrative television rights for its men’s basketball tournament.

The NCAA cashes in every year during “March Madness.” It wasn’t always this way.

As recently as 1973, when the first wave of Black student-athletes were recruited to all-white Jim Crow athletic departments across the Southern part of the country, TV rights for the NCAA tournament generated only about $1 million. Plainly stated, segregated collegiate sports weren’t generating the enormous revenues we see today.

1967-alabama-footballAlabama’s 1967 Football Team

Let’s recognize that it wasn’t until June 9, 1969 that the University of Kentucky signed it’s first Black basketball player. In 1971, Alabama signed it’s first Black football player.  Over the next decade, Black student-athletes became de rigueur in the American south. The influx of Black student-athletes into major college sports was accompanied by an explosion in revenues. The performances of Black student-athletes have become extremely marketable and valuable. Last year, Men’s basketball tournament multimedia rights accounted for more than $680 million of the NCAA’s nearly $913 million in total revenue.

So… How have Black student-athletes fared? What are they getting out of the deal? Have young Black student-athletes been entering “Faustian Bargains” since the early 1970’s? Have they abandoned their commitment to academic achievement in order to play on the largest stage? Are they modern day equivalents to Roman gladiators?

Shaun Harper, Collin Williams and Horatio Blackman of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity at Penn Graduate School of Education,  reported the following in their study of graduation rates:

~ Across four cohorts, 50.2% of black male student-athletes graduated within six years, compared to 66.9% of student/athletes overall, 72.8% of undergraduate students overall, and 55.5% of black undergraduate men overall.

~ 96.1% of these NCAA Division I colleges and universities graduated black male student-athletes at rates lower than student-athletes overall.

~ 97.4% of these institutions graduated black male student-athletes at rates lower than undergraduate students overall.

By any reasonable measure, Black male student-athletes are struggling. Plainly stated, half of them do not graduate within six years. At nearly every D1 school they graduate at rates lower than student-athletes overall. Moreover, they graduate at rates lower than undergraduate students overall.

The picture is more than bleak! It’s downright scary… Young Black men are entering the chamber and fewer than half are emerging out of the other end with a degree within six years… There’s gotta be a better way…

Who will provide the example? Where is our Beacon on the Hill?

It’s the RAK!!

Rakeem1Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse

The numbers are beyond impressive. Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas is averaging 18.4 ppg and 9.0 rpg in an astounding senior campaign. One of the favorites for ACC Player of the Year and a sure fire ALL-American, Christmas dropped 35 and 9 on Wake Forest. In his very next game he put up 21 and 10 against Clemson. Miami was victimized for 23 and 8, while he gave North Carolina 22 and 12.

Rakeem is, without question, the most productive BIG in college basketball this season.

However, the greatest numbers he has put up over the past year were 120 and 3.

120 and 3…

Defying the odds and refuting stereotypes, Rakeem Christmas graduated from Syracuse University – earning 120 credits of coursework – in just 3 years.

The Syracuse graduation requirements are very clear. Students must earn a minimum of 120 credits of coursework for the B.A. or B.S. degree. For all students enrolling in the College of Arts and Sciences, 30 of the 120 credits must be taken in upper-division courses. Every major leading to the bachelor’s degree in the College of Arts and Sciences must include at least 18 credits of upper-division work (courses numbered 300 and above) in the field of study.

In an era where half of Black male student-athletes fail to graduate within 6 years, Rakeem graduated in 3.

It’s the RAK!!

Rakeem2After three seasons as a Syracuse starter, Christmas graduated as a junior with a B.S. in communications and rhetorical studies from SU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. According to Head Coach Jim Boeheim, Christmas is the first to accomplish this feat. Boeheim said, “It’s got to be about as rare as can be… It’s an unbelievable accomplishment.”

What was the key to his academic success? Is there a secret that can be passed on to other Black student-athletes in high profile D1 programs?

So… Rak, exactly how did you get this done? “I’m just here in the summer time a lot and I was taking a lot of classes… For my major, I was just knocking out a lot of stuff that I needed. So I was getting down to it and I realized I had taken a lot of my major courses.”

Everyone familiar with the demands of collegiate sports is familiar with the obstacles. There are probably a minimum of 15-20 hours practice each week. If you want to get better, you have to exceed the mandatory time in the weight room. In the hyper-competitive ACC there are countless hours spent in meetings and studying film. After all, it is widely considered the premier conference in all of college basketball.

Then after all of that, you have to travel up and down the East Coast to play the games. This demanding schedule takes you away from the classroom. You invariably miss lectures and seminars.

How have you managed this demanding schedule? “The travel is the tough… We’re away from campus a lot, but I made sure I kept in contact with professors, emailing them and sending in assignments.”

Raised primarily by his Aunt, Amira Hamid, Rakeem has internalized her lessons on the importance of developing and refining his ability to prioritize and compartmentalize aspect of his life.

Rakeem and AmiraRakeem and Amira Hamid

“Practice isn’t that bad for me. It’s about two hours out of my day. I practice and I go home and work before going to sleep.”

He admits that road games can be a challenge.

“When we’re traveling, I don’t really want to focus on class work. I’m thinking about the game… But I know I’ve got to get the work done.”

Hamid has instilled a strong West Indian value system in Rakeem.

“I’m pretty self-motivated… My first year, people had to tell me what to do. But I have come to realize that I have to get it done… I learned to pay attention to the little things that you need to do to get it all done.”

Oh…… Rak’s gotten it done….

His freshman year Syracuse went 34-3 and reached the Elite Eight. As a sophomore he helped the Orange to a 30-10 record and a Final Four Appearance. During his junior year, the Orange were 28-6 and made it to the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament.

The team has been incredibly successful. Average attendance in the Carrier Dome was 26,253 in 2014.

Most importantly, Rakeem came out of the chamber early. His degree was firmly in hand after 3 seasons. He is an example for all Black collegiate student-athletes that come after him. He’s committed to helping younger kids understand the importance of focusing and setting priorities.

A McDonald’s All-American in high school, he struggled early trying to find a niche on supremely talented Syracuse squads. Unlike the 604 Men’s Basketball student-athletes that transferred in 2014, Rakeem buckled down, hit the books and worked on his craft. He has reaped the benefits of studying as he makes his way through a Master’s program. Syracuse is reaping the benefits of his perseverance as he slays ACC opponents night in and night out.

A classic win-win proposition… That’s exactly how it should be for every young Black student-athlete participating in collegiate athletics.

“I love Syracuse University! I couldn’t imagine going to another school… I bleed Orange!”

Rakeem4It’s the RAK!!

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spengine.com Mid-Season Philly College Hoops Awards

DJ NewbillDJ Newbill, Penn State University

DJ Newbill, Mid-Season MVP
In the Spring of 2010, DJ Newbill committed to play for Buzz Williams at Marquette. While he flew under the radar as far as national recruit rankings were concerned, those who followed Philly hoops knew exactly how good he was. The “King of North Philly” while leading Strawberry Mansion HS to state prominence, Newbill couldn’t have been happier. Marquette was his dream school and he eagerly anticipated competing in the Big East. The confident young man knew he would make a big impact at the high major level.

Then, at the last minute, like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, Buzz shitted on Newbill and gave his scholarship to Jamal Wilson who was transferring home from Oregon. Left scrambling, Newbill settled down at Southern Mississippi where he was an All-Freshman performer for the Golden Eagles. However, after one season he yearned to test his mettle at the highest level and reduce the distance between himself and his family in North Philly.

Newbill transferred to Penn State and suited up for the Nitanny Lions in the Big 10 Conference. After two very solid All-Big 10 level seasons, he the leading scorer in the Big 10 at 21.8 ppg, while grabbing 5 rebounds and dishing 3.1 apg. Penn State is at the top of the standings (11-1) in the Big 10 as Conference play is about to begin.

“This is better than I could have ever imagined,” said Newbill. “I am Penn State… I love everything this university represents. I just want to lead the team to a strong season in the Big 10 and a return to the NCAA tournament. Penn State has given me an opportunity to become a leader on and off the court. I am extremely proud to know that I can live the rest of my life as a Penn State alum. Hopefully, we can continue winning and make some noise in the NCAA Tournament.”

 

Rondae-Hollis-JeffersonRondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona University

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
One of the best players in America does not start for his team. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson leads the 3rd ranked Arizona Wildcats in rebounds (6.5) and blocks (1.0), while ranking second in scoring (11.9), in an average of 25.9 minutes per game off the bench.

In an era of selfish guys that try to “get numbers” every time out, Rondae is a throwback. Hollis-Jefferson does so many things that help his team win basketball games. This tendency was highly regarded in high school and has continued at the high major level. Arizona has continuously resided in the top5 since Rondae’s arrival.

Rondae consistently provides tremendous levels of energy on both ends of the floor, hustling non-stop for loose balls and shutting down the opponents best player in position 1-4.

 

North Carolina State v SyracuseRakeem Christmas, Syracuse University

Rakeem Christmas
The expectations were huge. Rakeem Christmas was a Mcdonald’s All-American four years ago. Many thought he had the potential to go to the NBA after one or two college seasons. His career at Syracuse hasn’t played out the way many prognosticators predicted. Christmas barely played as a freshman. While others may have contemplated transferring, Christmas decided to stay and find a niche within the Syracuse program. His sophomore and junior seasons were Ok but nothing like the superstar projections many made prior to his Carrier Dome arrival.

This year, the 6’ 9” senior is Syracuse’s leading scorer (16.4). “I knew it was my time. We lost a lot of players last year, and coach needed me to step up,” said Christmas. He has stepped in other areas as well. He leads the Orange in rebounding (8.9) and blocked shots (2.44). “I figured this would be a big year for me, so I put in the work this summer to become a better all-around player.” Always a high percentage shooter, Christmas, shooting 60.4 percent from the field,

012112stjohns16nmJayvaugn Pinkston, Villanova University

Jayvaugn Pinkston
A key performer on the best program in the region, Jayvaughn Pinkston is a very strong athlete with well rounded post skills that allow him to prosper on the interior. A former McDonald’s All-American, Pinkston just makes winning plays for the Wildcats time after time.

His scoring is down (10.5 ppg) compared to last year, when he averaged 14.1 ppg. But he remains the go to guy when Villanova need a bucket in crunch time. More often that not he delivers. Pinkston gets it done with b guts, determination and extra-helpings of heart. He has a keen ability to sense when he teammates need him to deliver difference making plays. When he is overmatched by his opponents size and athleticism, he simply goes right through them.

Photographer: Zack Lane, Hofstra University PhotographerAmeen Tanksley, Hofstra University

Ameen Tanksley
Quietly, Ameen Tanksley has emerged as one of the better college players from the Greater Philadelphia Region. He is leading Hofstra is scoring (18.3 ppg) while also snaring 6.0 rpg. After sitting out a year Against a North Carolina State team that had 14,264 in attendance at PNC Arena, Tanksley notched 13 points and 10 rebounds in just 24 minutes.

Tanksley has been in double figures every game this season. He has exceeded 20 points in 4 of the last six outings, including 30 points in a win against Norfolk State. He is shooting 55% from the field and an incredible 56% from the 3 point line. At 7-3, Hofstra is at the top of the Colonial Athletic Association standings.

aaron-walton-moss
Aaron Walton-Moss, 6th Man
Those who understand and appreciate basketball in the region know that Aaron Walton-Moss is a really, really good player. Last season’s national Division III Player of the Year, Walton-Moss is off to another great start. He is averaging 20.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg and 7.9 apg.

He creates his own shots, and shots for others and rebounds the ball. He is one of the best college basketball players in the region at any level.

Spenginelogo

The Best of the Rest rysheedjordanRysheed Jordan, St. John’s University, 14.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 3.1 apg

 

JabrilTrawickJabril Trawick, Georgetown University, 7.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.8 apg

BembryDeAndre Bembery, St. Joseph’s University, 14.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg and 3.0 apg

DamianLee

Damion Lee, Drexel University, 19.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.3 apg

Ky Howard

Ky Howard, NJIT, 13.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg and 3.8 apg

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