By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
With his 42-inch vertical jump, Melvin Levett thrilled University of Cincinnati basketball fans with his acrobatic dunks.
Melvin Levett acknowledges the crowd as he and other senior players are honored before their last career home game.
(Enquirer file photo)
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He was known as The Helicopter, the Levett-ator and The Grim Leaper.
He left the program in 1999 without a degree and headed off for what he hoped would be a long and financially lucrative career in the NBA.
But the professional career never materialized, and Levett is back in Cincinnati, pursuing the degree he didn't get.
In retrospect, life as a UC Bearcat seems like a fantasy. What he's doing now is the real world.
"You take a lot of things for granted when you have a lot of people who pick you up when you fall down," Levett said this week while working at UC coach Bob Huggins' summer camp at Shoemaker Center.
"When you get out there and fall down by yourself, you're the only one picking yourself up. You're on your own now. Huggs used to tell us all the time: It's going to go quick. You have to get prepared to be out there in the world to get a job. It didn't hit me until I got out there."
Levett, now 26, was drafted in the second round of the 1999 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons and promptly traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. He lasted only a few weeks into training camp and was released when the Lakers signed Ron Harper.
"A couple of things overseas didn't work out," Levett said.
He played for several professional minor league teams, including the Cincinnati Stuff and the Kentucky Pro Cats and then, last winter, after undergoing arthroscopic ankle surgery, decided it was time to return to school. He's taking advantage of UC's Operation Recall, a program that helps former athletes who want to return to get their degrees.
Levett paid his own way throughout winter quarter and completed nine credit hours. Through the program, he finished 12 more hours during spring quarter working for the athletic department in exchange for financial assistance.
His goal is to graduate with a degree in liberal arts/social sciences by the end of next winter quarter.
"I forgot what it was like to be in that college setting," Levett said. "I'll meet people and they'll say, 'Man, I watched you when I was in the eighth grade.' And I'm like, 'Really?' It doesn't seem that long ago, but for this kid to say that and remember that, I really appreciate things like that."
Levett says he regularly attended class while playing at UC, but his mind was often someplace else.
"I viewed everything here as a job," he said. "I knew coming to basketball practice was brutal, so school was like thinking about practice. I'd be in class and I'd be thinking, 'I've got to go to practice and I've got to deal with Coach Huggins.' Before you know it, class was over. So, you heard part of it, but again you didn't.
"My mind wasn't fully into it like it is now, because it was always a dream you had to be a professional athlete. It was kind of distorted because we were treated like gods. It's easy to forget what you're here for until it slaps you in the face like it did to me."
Levett has a long way to go toward his degree, but he can see it in the distance now and has a new appreciation for its value. He talks to young players, including current UC players, about the importance of getting their degrees.
"If you thought Melvin Levett was the man here," he tells them, "look what I'm doing. Not everybody makes it."
LOGAN UPDATE: Former UC All-American Steve Logan is back in the Bay Area working with a strength and conditioning coach and preparing for what he hopes will be another shot with the Golden State Warriors, The San Francisco Chronicle reported this week.
Logan was drafted by the Warriors last year as the 30th pick, but did not sign. He subsequently explored the National Basketball Developmental League and the United States Basketball League, but never actually played in either. Golden State still owns his draft rights.
There's a chance he could be invited to play on the Warriors' summer league team in Long Beach, Calif., next month.
"When it's right - and he's in good shape - we'll go over and evaluate the situation," Warriors general manager Garry St. Jean told The Chronicle. "That's another piece. I hope he can get his game right."
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