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Scholarship Planted in '94 Bears First Fruit

June 23, 2002|STEVE BAILEY | ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Like many boys growing up here, Dougie Allen loved the Kentucky Wildcats.

He fantasized about being an athlete and wearing the University of Kentucky blue and white.

As it turned out, he was able to do just that, thanks to an assist from a Kentucky basketball icon.

Allen was one of six recipients of the first Kentucky Excel Incentive Scholarship, a program developed in 1994 with a $500,000 gift from former Wildcat All-American Jamal Mashburn.

"I loved Jamal as a player," said Allen, a former Kentucky football player who became one of the first two students in the program to graduate last month. "But as I watched him play on the court, I never thought he'd be responsible for my college education."

Mashburn, who played basketball at UK from 1991-93 and ranks fifth on the school's all-time scoring list with 1,843 points, made the gift shortly after leaving the school early to jump to the NBA.

His professional career has taken him from Dallas to Miami and finally to Charlotte, N.C. But Mashburn still hasn't forgotten his humble childhood on the playgrounds of New York City.

"To me, it's all about giving kids a chance," Mashburn said. "When I was growing up, my mom always told me that without basketball I probably wouldn't get the chance to go to college because it was too expensive.

"There are so many kids out there who need that chance because they don't have sports to fall back on to get them an athletic scholarship."

The program selects eighth-grade students enrolled in the Fayette County public school system. Recipients are chosen based on demonstrated educational commitment, satisfactory classroom conduct, recommendations from teachers and counselors, student essays and interviews.

The word "incentive" in the program's title is not just for show.

Recipients earn a year's paid tuition at Kentucky for each year of high school that they maintain a 2.5 grade point average with strong behavior and attendance records.

"The program is designed to identify students who are doing well but may run into challenges as they go through high school," said Lauretta Byars, Kentucky's associate provost for minority affairs.

"It's about potential. We want to show these kids some encouragement and get them excited about college while trying to help them understand the commitment and focus needed to get there."

Cassandra Small entered the program in 1996 when she was in middle school.

"The scholarship taught me that I could believe in myself," she said. "I knew if I kept my grades high, the scholarship would help make my college dreams come true."

Allen, who graduated with a degree in nutrition and food science, said the scholarship allowed him to focus on academics and athletics in high school.

"When you're in middle school, you don't really realize how big a thing a college scholarship is," said Allen, who caught 86 passes for 963 yards and five touchdowns in four seasons with Kentucky's football team. "But the further you get in high school, the more you understand what a blessing it is.

"The scholarship was a sure way for me to go to college. That took a lot of pressure off of me and let me direct all of my energy toward my classes and football."

According to Byars, there are 25 students currently in the program, either at Kentucky or in high school working toward that goal.

Allen and Taquoya Owens--another nutrition and food science major--are the first two graduates of the six-member inaugural class of 1994. Two of the students in the first group did not graduate high school--one went to military school and the other still is at UK working toward graduation.

"We know going in, because of the way we select these students, that some of them may never make it to college," Byars said. "But that's the way Jamal wanted it.

"There are serious problems and distractions kids contend with during their high school years. For Jamal to recognize that and want to go to the trouble to help these kids as a 20-year-old kid himself

Mashburn said he believes college is a crucial resource in preparing young people for life as an adult.

"It's not just about books and a degree, or about the crowd and athletics like it was for me," he said. "It's about living on your own, paying bills, staying on a budget and making new relationships.

"So many people never get the opportunity to experience that, so I created this fund to try to help them. I've also done this for some friends and cousins because college is so important. Everyone deserves a chance."

Allen may have had that chance, even without Mashburn's help.

Although he continued as a member of the program throughout high school and college, he never used any of the scholarship money because of an athletic scholarship.

That money still will be available to Allen, however, if he later chooses to go to graduate school. He recently signed a free agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL, so any future educational opportunities are on hold--for now.

"But it's comforting to know that that option is there if I need it," he said. "The reality is, I may not make it in football. If not, the program has given me something to fall back on.

"Maybe I'll go back to school and then someday open up my own restaurant in Lexington--a good old barbecue place where everything is cooked on the grill. Maybe I'll even call it Jamal's."

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