Friday, January 16, 2004

Chalmers XU's true upperclassman



Paul Daugherty

There is easy and there is hard. Easy is playing Athletes in Action in November and taking 13th Grade English and Connect-the-Dots. This grad school drill is hard.

No study tables. No tutors babysitting you, showing you what to learn and how to learn it. Say goodbye to Multiple-Choice World. True or false, Lionel Chalmers: Graduate school is not for amateurs.

"A whole lotta research," Chalmers said. "Nobody telling you when stuff is due. You have to be a man."

Papers, Chalmers said. Several a semester, seven or eight pages apiece. "Those papers are no joke," he said.

Since graduating in May with a degree in organizational communications, Xavier's senior guard is 17 credits into his master's degree in counseling. He needs about 50 more. This is Chalmers' fifth year at Xavier, his fourth playing basketball. He's taking XU for all it's worth.

Xavier paid for his undergraduate education. It will pay for this year, too. By May, Chalmers will be about halfway toward his second degree. All he had to do was play ball.

Not to trivialize the time spent in the gym. The Musketeers played at Duquesne Wednesday at 8 p.m. before boarding a bus for the five-hour trip home from Pittsburgh. Players got to bed at 4 Thursday morning. If they didn't wake themselves up for class, there was a decent chance the estimable Sister Rose Ann Fleming, Xavier's academic advisor, paid them a house call.

Then they practiced again Thursday night. School and hoops aren't quite a night in the Barcalounger. But kids who go to college to play first and study second are taking it easy, and not taking full advantage.

Chalmers is taking full advantage. It helps that his parents insisted he would not go to college just to stay eligible. Renee and Lionel Sr. each started college but didn't finish. They told Lionel and his older sister Kesia that wouldn't happen with them.

Last summer, Chalmers figured he would take a few undergraduate courses this year, just enough to satisfy NCAA rules. "Just B.S. my way through" as Chalmers put it, "and show what I have" on the basketball court. "This is a big year for me."

His parents killed that notion. "The opportunity is so big," they said, to get started on a graduate degree. Chalmers heard the same from Fleming and coach Thad Matta.

"What got me was that everyone said the same thing. They couldn't be saying it just to be saying it," Chalmers said. "My argument was, I came to college to get my degree. I got it. Now I can focus on playing basketball, what I love, what I want to do the rest of my life."

Playing basketball isn't the rest of anyone's life, even those with the initials M. and J.

"That's what opened my eyes. That's why I'm doing what I'm doing now," Chalmers said.

Last semester, he took a course called Curriculum Design in Teaching Strategies. He wrote papers when he was dead tired. He went to the library when he wanted to go to bed. And, of course, he went to practice every day. It's almost like having two full-time jobs.

Lionel Chalmers might have a paid career in sneakers. He's preparing for a career beyond that. He's also learning how to be an adult. These are things college is supposed to do for everyone enrolled. The difference is, Chalmers is learning them tuition-free. The system works when you work with the system.

Who says college jocks don't get paid?

E-mail pdaugherty@enquirer.com




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