During the summer of 1979, a business mentor who remains a dear friend encouraged me to take the test to get my property and casualty insurance license. He was then, and continues today to be, a very successful independent insurance agent. I had worked for him the prior summer and would spend the next couple of summers working for him as well. Spending those summers learning the insurance business was an invaluable education for me, and it was the beginning of me thinking about life beyond basketball.
Fast forward three decades. My playing days are long gone, but I'm still involved in the game as a college basketball broadcaster for CBS, the vice president of player relations for the Indiana Pacers, and as an Advisory Board member for the Capital One Cup, which recognizes excellence in Division I college athletics. I also have three children, two who've played sports at the NCAA Division I level, who've had to ponder their post-athletic careers as I did, balancing personal development with rules set for their non-competitive time. My wife likes to joke that sometimes I'm too hands-off-the-wheel in my approach to guiding our children. I do feel the best lessons are learned when you try and figure it out on your own, with some non-intrusive parental guidance, of course. As we enjoy the grand stage for college basketball, March Madness, we also enter the twilight of many players' careers on the hardwood. To all those student-athletes, I want to pass along the knowledge I've gained through my own experiences and given to my children, in hopes they can -- in one of my favorite expressions -- "own their own education":
Go outside the athletic world to make friendships. Student-athletes are around coaches and teammates so much. Before my children even came to me for advice, this is something I challenged them to do. Spend time with fellow students; they will be your business contemporaries, your future co-workers, people who will help you make a career after you play, develop your skills as mentors. It's hard to do, especially with the time given to film, weights and training, and game day. But all student-athletes should consider this as part of their real-life development. How do you meet them? At a summer job, or in signing up for a class you wouldn't normally take -- and participating. It's often hard for student-athletes to think outside of their bubbles, but the opportunities in the non-athletics world are more plentiful than those in athletics.
Be proactive in interacting with your professors. This is tough with young people - especially African-Americans. My advice: be grown up about it; reach out for guidance, direction. You've earned your college education through your giftedness in sports. It's a primary responsibility to give all you can in your sport; but, to also focus on education. Personally, I determined right away that I wanted to excel as a student; I wanted to earn my college degree. Besides helping you excel and better understand the lessons set forth, professors will be a lifelong pipeline to future opportunities, as well as your mentors in regard to continuing education.
Never stop learning. In my role as vice president of player relations with the Indiana Pacers I'm in a fortunate position to help mentor some of the most gifted athletes on the planet about life after basketball. Many of these players don't have their college degrees. Trust me when I say it doesn't matter how many points you can score or rebounds you can grab right now - your playing days will end before you are 40. You've got to be prepared to do something besides dribble the ball. I also tell those on the professional level: life has to be more than gaining income. What's your impact going to be outside the game? There's a major gap in formal education -- and real-life education. You have to keep learning, own who you are and what you're going to become. It's our duty to educate and empower.
To this, as a college basketball analyst, I've had the opportunity to find others who believe in educating and empowering student athletes. I've been an Advisory Board member for the Capital One Cup for nearly three years now, and it's been such a pleasure working with a brand that puts its money where its mouth is. The Capital One Cup not only recognizes the best in college sports, honoring the top men's and women's athletics program in the country across all Division I sports, but has awarded a combined $800,000 in student-athlete scholarships.
Back during that summer of 1979 I started to think about life beyond basketball and it taught me a valuable lesson: student athletes need to value the "student" just as much the "athlete" and capitalize on the incredible educational opportunities they are given. I left to go to the NBA in 1982 after my junior year, eventually coming back to Ohio State to complete my degree. To those in the spotlight this month, I wish you the best at the Final Four, but I truly hope you're also preparing for the next 40 -- and hopefully not final -- years of your professional career. Good luck to everyone on the road to the Georgia Dome -- and beyond.