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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT | BILL PLASCHKE

Bruins Have a Study Haul

With finals in the middle of the tournament, many college players have more on their minds than basketball.

March 17, 2001|BILL PLASCHKE

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The hotel lobby is alive with the tinsel and tittering of America's greatest collegiate spectacle.

Balloons in bright college colors bounce above fans in thick varsity sweatshirts. Boosters and scouts mingle to the sound of Muzak and boasts.

On this splendid morning in the middle of the month invented for college basketball, everyone is smiling.

Everyone, it seems, except for the college basketball player in the middle of it all.

Visible through an open door of the hotel business center, he is wearing a light-blue sweatsuit and sitting at a computer.

There is a nylon sock over his head and a glare on his face. He stares at the monitor and rubs his chin.

He is UCLA guard Ray Young.

While everyone else here is doing March Madness, he is doing his homework.

There is math. There is sociology. There are final exams next week.

"The price you pay," he says, shrugging.

Down the hall, the buzz continues.

Down the hall, so does the studying.

At round tables inside a cavernous meeting room, breakfast is cleared, and the other Bruins spread out to cram.

Not for today's second-round game against Utah State, but for the finals.

Ryan Bailey, who brought five textbooks on this trip, worked until 3 a.m. Thursday writing a paper.

Todd Ramasar has already pulled one all-nighter on this trip, then missed Wednesday's pre-Hofstra practice to finish a paper.

"When people asked me where he was, what was I going to say?" Coach Steve Lavin said. "The kid had to study."

Earl Watson brought eight textbooks along, but he considers himself lucky. At least here, he can study for next week's astronomy and history exams at a lighted hotel table.

Before one home game earlier this year, he wrote a research paper while planted in a chair under the Pauley Pavilion bleachers.

"The question is, do you want to graduate?" Watson says. "If you want to graduate, this is what you do."

In some form or other, this is what they are all doing these next three weeks, these basketball stars who, many conveniently forget, are still in college.

While we are thinking about Cinderellas, Billy Knight is thinking about Folklore 155.

While we look for one shining moment, Knight is looking for a quiet place to study for that final.

Two nights ago, he camped out in his hotel bathroom.

"It's an amazing paradox," said Duke's Shane Battier, probable college player of the year. "The NCAA preaches to us that we are student-athletes. Yet this time of year, they make us miss school."

*

Before staying up all night in a Greensboro hotel room to finish a paper, Ramasar had an idea.

The seldom-used Bruin swingman, who wants to attend law school, asked one professor for an extension.

The professor angrily turned him down, saying, "I don't understand you people."

Indeed, she doesn't.

Many assume that high-profile scholarship athletes are automatically given special academic privileges.

It's the opposite.

"I've never asked for anything special from a teacher, and never will," said Watson, who is scheduled to graduate with his class in June. "People are harder on us because we're in the spotlight."

Many assume that while players are representing their school in such high-profile events as the NCAA tournament, their schooling stops.

It's the opposite.

Teachers are appropriately wary of letting players take tests after their classmates have taken them.

"They think somebody is going to tell us the questions," Bailey said.

So UCLA players take their tests at the same time as everyone else, which is fair.

But the NCAA often makes it impossible for them to take those tests in the same place as everyone else.

Last year, the day after losing in the Sweet 16 to Iowa State, a couple of players took seven hours' worth of exams in the ballroom of a Detroit hotel.

Ramasar said the tests resulted in the worst grades of his academic career, one of them a D. He said his grades are always far better in the spring.

"Everyone thinks it's so glamorous when, in fact, it is much harder to take a test in a hotel ballroom," said Mike Casillas, UCLA's director of student-athlete counseling. "It's not an academic environment."

Some also assume that, because of the lure of the NBA, many college players don't need to care about school anyway.

Yet of almost 400 remaining tournament players, there are probably only a couple of dozen NBA prospects.

"Sure, there are different levels of concern about school," said Bailey, who once composed a paper sitting in a quiet hotel hallway. "But most of us need our degrees."

The Bruins, who attend one of the few tournament schools on the quarter system, are paying such heed to final exams that they will be exhausted if they advance to next week's regional semifinals in Philadelphia.

Instead of staying on the East Coast, the Bruins are going to immediately return to Westwood if they beat Utah State today. They will take finals Monday before flying cross-country again Monday night.

The remaining exams will then be administered by Casillas in a Philadelphia hotel.

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