Sunday, May 16, 1999

Four Musketeers graduate after overcoming long odds




BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[posey]
James Posey towers above fellow graduates.
(Jeff Swinger photos)

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        The speaker called out, “The College of Arts and Sciences,” and a slew of students donning caps and gowns stood and began walking toward the stage. An excited Ken Lumpkin leaned over and said: “First one, Mom. First one. This is it!”

        Peggie Lumpkin smiled. Her youngest child, Gary, best known in these parts as a 6-foot-2 point guard for Xavier's men's basketball team, is the first in his family to graduate from college.

        He was one of four Musketeers teammates to receive a degree Saturday during Xavier's 161st Commencement at the Firstar Center.

[brown]
Lenny Brown is greeted by Xavier President James E. Hoff.

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        Darnell Williams soon followed. Later came Lenny Brown and James Posey, both from The College of Social Sciences.

        More than 1,700 students got their diplomas. Brown, Posey and Williams also were the first in their families to do so.

        Perhaps it should not be news that each graduated — in four years, no less.

        But it is.

        The NCAA constantly is looking at ways for member institutions to improve graduation rates, and men's basketball and football programs are especially under the microscope.

        This spring, only one other college program ranked in the top 50 of the season-ending Rating Percentage Index has more scholarship seniors receiving degrees than Xavier (Stanford, with five).

[lumpkin]
Gary Lumpkin
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[williams]
Darnell Williams
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        Since 1986, during the Pete Gillen-Skip Prosser era, Xavier has graduated 40 out of 40 scholarship men's basketball players who competed during their senior years.

        It is a streak the players are well aware of.

        “What's crazy is, I didn't believe it until he said my name,” Brown said. “I'll never forget this moment.”

        Out of 45 XU student-athletes this school year, 38 graduated Saturday, and the other seven will earn degrees either by August or after a semester of student-teaching this fall, academic adviser Sister Rose Ann Fleming said. A swimmer, Patrick Wolf, was the class valedictorian — the first time Xavier officials could remember an athlete receiving such an honor — and spoke at Saturday's ceremony.

        When the latest NCAA report was released, for athletes who entered school in 1991, Xavier was rated No.1 in the nation with a 100 percent graduation rate.

GOOD COMPANY
  Seven schools that finished with a top-50 Rating Percentage Index have three or more scholarship seniors graduating this spring and a 100-percent graduation rate:
  • No.2 Connecticut (3 of 3)
  • No.5 Stanford (5 of 5)
  • No.9 North Carolina (3 of 3)
  • No.13 Iowa (3 of 3)
  • No.19 Miami U. (3 of 3)
  • No.43 Villanova (3 of 3)
  • No.49 Xavier (4 of 4)
  • Source: Sports information departments
        The men's basketball program has done its part. This may be the most accomplished graduating class of players in terms of success on and off the court.

        The four Musketeers should rank in the top 12 on the school's all-time scoring list after Williams (22nd) returns to play one more season as a medical redshirt.

        “It's harder for them to do the work, not because they're less bright, but simply because there's so much riding on them being good in their sports,” Fleming said. “They hate to take their minds off it.

        “They've really been a remarkable group to work with, because you can depend on them.”

Come a long way
        The Leonard Lamont Brown saga has been recounted numerous times, probably because it is such a remarkable success story. Born to a mother who was just 13 at the time. Raised in a Wilmington, Del., housing project. Expelled from high school for excessive truancy. Sold drugs as a teen to help out financially at home.

        Brown, 24, came to Xavier via Maine Central Institute prep school and needed time to learn to trust the faculty, fellow students, coaches, even Fleming.

        “It was good for all of us to walk with Lenny for a few miles to make him feel at ease with the situation,” Fleming said.

        Throughout his last semester, Brown, a criminal justice major who hopes to play basketball professionally, kept calling Fleming to ask: “Do I have everything taken care of? Have I filled out the forms? Have I paid all my fees?”

        It was a telling sign of how far Xavier's No.3 career scorer has come.

        Two summers ago, Norman Oliver, who runs a Wilmington, Del., summer league, was going to an area prison to speak to inmates and wanted Brown to come along and talk, too.

        The following day, Brown was a no-show.

        “I don't think I've done anything,” he explained that afternoon on the front steps of his home. “When I get that degree and I start a job, then ... I'll schedule my own appointments.”

        Reminded of that Saturday, Brown said: “Now I have something to bring to the table. I have a college degree from a great university. This is a big accomplishment for anybody. I'm so proud of myself right now.”

At ease at all times
        Gary Leon Lumpkin was a fairly low-maintenance student-athlete. He comes from a religious home with five siblings who “made sure I had my priorities straight.” He was raised by his mother, Peggie, after his father died when he was 6 years old.

        One of the best words to describe Lumpkin is “balanced.” The New Castle, Del., native is equally at ease conversing with athletes and non-athletes, adults and children.

        “Gary has a very strongly developed sense of responsibility,” Fleming said. “He knew it was up to him to do the right thing at the right time.”

        Lumpkin, 22, is confident that being comfortable in any social setting will serve him well in the future. He finished No.11 on the school's scoring chart and also would like to play basketball professionally.

        “I think it's good that we have the reputation of being good students and also being good basketball players,” he said. “I think it goes a long way in helping you down the line.

        “Our title is student-athletes. The thing is, student always comes first. Basketball's over. This is the real world here.”

Proving them wrong
        James Mikley Mantell Posey Jr. heard the whispers and knew what people were saying. Academically ineligible coming out of R.B. Chamberlin High School in Twinsburg, Ohio, Posey said many back in his hometown did not believe he would ever graduate from college.

        “I did it. I got my piece of paper,” the criminal justice ma jor said. “I'm going to make sure everybody knows when I go home. I can stick my chest out, my head up. I wonder what the people are saying now. It's been hard at times, but I just thought of everybody that doubted me. That was motivation.”

        He needed something to drive him during his freshman year when, for the first time in his life, he was not permitted to play for a basketball team. He had to settle for intramural competition while concentrating on his schoolwork.

        “I sensed he was sad about it,” Fleming said. “(But) he never really complained about it to me. He never tried to put the blame on somebody else. He just knew that he would have to suffer through it.”

        Posey, 22, said he never lived with both of his parents. James Posey Sr. and Rosetta Moore are long-time friends who have resided under separate roofs. Still, both have had a lot of influence on their son.

        It is expected Posey — XU's No.12 career scorer — will be selected in the June NBA draft, but the prospects of a lucrative pro basketball career never dissuaded him from making sure he got his degree.

        “A lot of people want to make it in the NBA, and a lot of them don't,” Posey said. “The ultimate goal when you're going to school is to get that piece of paper that says you made it through, you were successful, and now with this piece of paper you can dictate what you want to do. You have an edge on people now.”

On to a master's
        This is something Darnell Lorenzo Williams is proud of: After his freshman year, the only time he received a 6:30 a.m. phone call from Fleming was by accident. “She dialed the wrong number,” Williams said. “It's good if Sister doesn't call. Then you know your work is done.”

        Since his first year of college, the advertising major has been a 3.0 GPA student.

        Williams was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. His parents, who sat together at Saturday's ceremony, divorced when he was in eighth grade. Williams said maybe one other person from his neighborhood has a college degree. Maybe. “Everybody else has got street degrees,” he said.

        He started out only modestly interested in academics and admits that even as a Xavier freshman, he did only enough to get by.

        “I never thought I'd have been able to finish,” he said. “I figured I'd be in my bed saying, "I'm not going to class,' and end up dropping out. But I didn't.”

        Slowly he started to get more serious, turning in work early and getting ahead.

        “It wasn't hard,” he said. “It was a matter of me sitting down and saying to myself that I need to do this to better myself. My parents played a big role, (but) they couldn't come down here and do the work for me.”

        “Darnell had a sense of, "This is school and I will do the work,'” Fleming said. “You didn't have to tell him twice what he needed to do. He went out and did it. I hope some day he'll value his own potential. He is an extremely bright person.”

        Williams, 21, will begin taking courses toward a master's degree in sports administration.

        He laughs. “It sounds funny,” Williams said. “(Getting) a master's seems outrageous.”



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