A nationally ranked basketball team may not be the first thing that comes to mind when discussing a big city community college.
But this year, the BMCC men’s basketball team not only won the 2015 CUNY championship, the team also produced the CUNY player of the year, Freshmen Kenneth Coar. Coach Nolan Adams was named CUNY coach of the year. And if that weren’t enough, the BMCC Panthers spent much of the season ranked in the top ten in the NJCAA Division-III poll, creating national buzz about the school’s athletic program.
Coach Adams said his experience at BMCC had been the most fulfilling in his eleven-year basketball-coaching career. He wishes every member of the team could take home a trophy, because the CUNY championship was about the team that came together from across the city and gelled together like a family.
“Amazing both on and off the court,” said Adams.
The challenges of going to college in the city
Work, school and other day-to-day demands weigh heavily on the shoulders of community college students who also have to support themselves beyond the walls of the campus. That’s especially true in dense, often expensive urban areas. The tolls of those demands show up in community college retention statistics. But, through programs such as rigorous organized athletic competition, students become more engaged and vested, both socially and academically.
“You sometimes work with kids who may not have been that focused in high school. Maybe they went through the public school system and it wasn’t such a great experience for them academically. But, then they come here and they meet folks such as us, and athletic director Stephen Kelly,” said Adams.
Adams said that he and Coach Tyrone Wilkerson “stay on” the players about keeping up with their academic studies.
Athletics and stronger academic performance
In order to play for the team, students must be full time and maintain at least a 2.0 GPA. Adams said the athletics department worked with the academic resource center setting up tutoring schedules for the team’s players.
“Not only are they getting to do something they love to do, they’re finding a different avenue with which to be motivated in class, “ he said.
Still, BMCC basketball is not Duke or Kentucky. The coaches understand they can’t expect their students to spend six or more hours on the court prepping for a game.
“We have one player who works 25 to 30 hours per week at Macy’s in Downtown Brooklyn, and he takes a full course load, and yet he’s here for practice every day” said Adams.
Vested in the BMCC community
Wilkerson says the team building skills the players learn while participating can also translate into life itself.
“The team can help bridge family gaps and other relationships they may not have,” said Wilkerson. He said the relationship skills they learn are invaluable.
Last year, when the team was not as successful, the gym was almost always empty for games according to Adams. But, this year, as the team began to see more victories, more and more students and faculty began to show up.
“Students and professors started to say hello in the hallways,” said Adams.
And, students have already begun to inquire about next year’s team.
He said BMCC students know what they have to do academically in the spring so they can be eligible in November for tryouts.
“You go into our gym and our set-up for a basketball game, it looks no different from a higher-level school. Our facility, the programs we offer here at BMCC are top notch, it’s taken us time to build it up to this level,” said BMCC Athletics Director Stephen Kelly.
There’s no doubt the program has instilled an even greater sense of pride in its team members. All the team’s senior players are headed off to four-year schools in the fall. Among them is Justin Manon, who plans to attend St. Joseph’s College in Downtown Brooklyn and study education.
Motivation in class
Manon, who wants to be a teacher, said the team motivated him to be a better student. He said he hopes to take some of the skills he picked up playing on team as he pursues his career.
“Coach always stresses not only becoming a better player, but a better person. I hope, that as a teacher, I can do that too,” said Manon.
Business Administration major Elijah Bryant agrees.
“I’ve never really been part of a team,” said Bryant.
Being a part of the athletic program had helped him tremendously with his studies, Bryant said.
Senior and Liberal Arts major Joseph Ojo is planning on furthering his education in the information technology field.
“Playing on the team gave us an extra push to do well in our classes, because if we don’t pass, we don’t get to play,” said Ojo.
He also admitted that winning the CUNY championship had been emotionally overwhelming at times.
Criminal Justice major Kenneth Coar said he appreciated the sense of community the team offered throughout the year.
“Both on and off the court, my teammates had my back, encouraged me to go to class, we could talk about anything,” he said.
Perhaps Justin Manon summed it up best.
“I always wanted brothers, that’s exactly what I got,” he said.