Sun May 05, 2013
By Sammy Batten, Fayetteville Observer -
Alphonza Kee has experienced some exceptional victories on the court in four seasons as the Fayetteville State men's basketball coach.
But it's off the court where Kee's most important triumphs are taking place.
Six members of Kee's basketball program - five players and a manager - received their undergraduate degrees at Fayetteville State's spring commencement Saturday at the Crown Coliseum. They'll continue a trend that's seen 12 of the 15 seniors who have played under Kee receive FSU degrees.
That's a graduation rate of 80 percent, which puts the Broncos ahead of national and university averages.
"There really is no glory in that," Kee said. "People don't often ask, 'How many players have you graduated?' They ask, 'How many games have you won?'
"But we have a firm belief that regardless of those 40 minutes on the court we cannot compromise on academics. I'm proud that we've graduated everyone here except for one situation.''
Kee doesn't count two players - Larry Ross and Jason Thompson - who were members of his first team in 2009-2010. Both sat out the first semester that season due to academic issues before rejoining the team for the second half.
But even counting those two, the Broncos graduation rate exceeds that of Fayetteville State's student body and its student-athletes.
The six-year graduation rate for all FSU students (starting with 2006-2007 academic year to 2012) is 31 percent, according to school officials. The rate for student-athletes during that time period is 47 percent.
Above Division II Level
Fayetteville State competes at the NCAA Division II level. According to statistics released by the NCAA in October 2011, Division II athletes entering with the Class of 2004 were graduating at a 73 percent rate.
Former FSU player, Jarmel Baxter
, received his undergraduate degree last May. Baxter is now enrolled in graduate school and served this season as a graduate assistant coach for Kee.
Kee enforces a variety of rules and regulations to ensure his players are focused on academics, according to Baxter.
"If you don't get it done in the classroom, you don't play,'' Baxter said. "He does a lot of things to help us, like study hall four days a week. He demands that our players sit in the first two rows of the classroom.
"He periodically checks classes to make sure we are attending. If people miss classes, there is a price to pay - everybody runs. You don't want to be the guy who causes everybody to do extra running.''
FSU's team graduation rate is more impressive when you consider Division II scholarships don't cover the cost of summer school tuition. Athletes at the Division I level can accumulate substantial course hours during the summer that are covered under their scholarships. Those hours can hasten the path to graduation, or lighten the course load during the regular season.
"We don't have that luxury,'' Kee said. "It's a whole different ball game here. Our guys have to maximize their hours in the fall and spring.''
The Broncos, who have a 42-66 record on the court under Kee, are succeeding in the classroom despite such limitations. Examples of that success were seen Saturday when two members of last year's team, Sidney Evans and Tim Plummer, along with Donte Fields, Seth Hawkins and Lenton Donnell from this year's squad, received their diplomas. Also graduating was manager Candrice Whitehead, who will be entering graduate school next fall at FSU.
A sixth senior player, Andre Best, will graduate in December and plans to attend pharmacy school.
"It will be like a championship to me,'' Kee said about Saturday's graduation ceremonies. "When I sit and talk to recruits, the one thing I guarantee is they'll walk across the stage and graduate from Fayetteville State if they buy into the program. This (graduation) says the program is working.''
Fayetteville Observer staff writer Sammy Batten can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3534.