What success looks like for a student athlete

National studies show black male college athletes are experiencing what has been termed a “graduation gap" -- schools prioritize their work on the court over their work in the classroom. One CBU student bucked that trend in a big way and now calls Memphis home even after receiving his diploma.
The odds were not in Trey Casey’s favor. He was attending LaSalle High School, an all-boys Catholic high school, in Cincinnati. He had a 3.2 GPA and played on the school’s basketball team, but recruiters were not knocking down his door — not until his team won the state championship in Ohio. Scouts were watching the game, and Casey caught the eye of Mike Nienaber, the head basketball coach at Christian Brothers University (CBU).

Turns out LaSalle High was Nienaber’s high school alma mater and he was known to recruit heavily from the Cincinnati area.

“I’m the oldest of five kids in my family,” said Casey. “Without a college scholarship, I had planned to enroll at the University of Cincinnati, staying close to home. But then I was offered a full scholarship from CBU to play basketball. I accepted immediately.”

But the odds were still stacked against him.

According to a new study by Shaun Harper at the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, black male athletes are experiencing what has been termed a systemic “graduation gap.” Across the country, they are completing college at significantly lower rates than their white counterparts. The study showed that just barely more than half of the black male athletes graduate at all.

That degree, which could be their ticket to their future upward mobility, is not turning out to be the reward they expected for accepting a scholarship to play ball.

“Instead they are really there to be part of the revenue-generating working class of athlete on campus and not necessarily there to be part of the educating class as most everyone else is,” explained Kevin Blackistone, a Washington Post sport columnist, in a recent NPR interview.

But Casey has challenged the trend, both in the classroom and on the basketball court. He came to Memphis in August 2011 and played basketball for CBU for four years. During that time, he found success on the court — he was named MVP in the conference tournament his sophomore year and was named to first team All-Conference, first team All-Region and received an honorable mention for All-American his junior and senior years. Additionally, he was named his team’s captain his senior year and helped make CBU legendary by leading his team to its very first victory over the University of Memphis Tigers. And based on his game stats and grades, Casey headlined a list of student athletes throughout the country, as he was named the Capital One Academic All-American Player of the Year.

All the while Casey was making slam dunks in his classes. In fact, he was an exceptional student, ultimately graduating with a 4.0 GPA and honored for having the highest GPA in CBU’s Business School. And he was an exemplary student athlete, proven by his ability to balance a full course load with the demands placed on a college athlete and graduating on time with his class.

“Our graduation rate for CBU students athletes is the highest in our conference (Gulf South Conference); that statistic is termed the Academic Success Rate, and CBU’s is 86 percent,” said Brian Summers, Director of Athletics for CBU. “Blackistone's study was based on data from 73 major colleges and is a better comparison to SEC schools. It is not reflective of Division II athletics.”

Summers continued, “True for Division II institutions across the board, our focus at CBU is to provide a high quality of academic experience as well as competing at the highest level of NCAA Division II. CBU’s federal graduation rate for student athletes (those who received some form of financial aid) is 61 percent as compared to the graduation rate for our general student body, which is 56 percent.”

After graduating with his degree in business administration with a concentration in finance, Casey weighed his options. Initially he signed with an agent to play professional basketball in Europe. However, he came to the realization that he could make a better future for himself using his finance degree. And Casey chose to stay in Memphis.

“I made a lot of really good friends at CBU and had begun to develop a network,” explained Casey. “That network helped me secure employment. I accepted a position as a Public Finance Analyst with Raymond James where I work in a division that helps municipalities across the country acquire financing for different projects. For example, when the City of Memphis wanted to turn the basketball arena at The Pyramid into a Bass ProShop, we were the folks who underwrote their bonds for them to have the necessary funding.”

As for the previously mentioned graduation gap, it appears that Division II schools are filling that gap for black student athletes better than major colleges, and Trey Casey is a shining example of someone whose accomplishments set him apart and showed what can be done to reverse that national trend.


Read more articles by Emily Adams Keplinger.

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