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Says one WAC conference basketball player who is "getting by" academically: "I've never made any bones about it. I told the recruiters I was going to college to get a shot at the pros. I've never been a student and didn't want to be one in college. Most of the brains aren't real good athletes, because they take too much time reading books when they should be practicing their shots."
Some athletes and many coaches disagree. UCLA's John Wooden, for one, never tires of saying, "I think there is a correlation between athletic success and intelligence." Indeed, there are innumerable examples of true student-athletes who manage to excel at both studies and sports. Three football players at Yale last season were majoring in molecular biophysics. At Kentucky, Linebacker Jim Kovach made All-America in 1978—while he was earning a B average in his first year of medical school and beginning his own family. Stanford senior Kimberly Belton won All-America honorable mention in 1979 in basketball and this season set school career records in scoring (1,615) and rebounding (955), while earning a 3.4 average in Communications. Last week he was named Stanford's student-athlete of the year.
In his own way Billy Harris is equally exceptional. Harris is black, and his perceptions of the problems most black students, particularly black student-athletes, encounter are a m�lange of exploitation and educational expediency that must be understood and corrected.
Harris is sitting in an office in downtown Chicago, drinking orange juice from a plastic cup. He is sharp, glib and challenging. His words come in drumming bursts, like hail on a tin roof.
He was raised on Chicago's South Side, in a four-bedroom apartment in a project called Robert Taylor Homes. There were four brothers and a sister. He was the second-oldest boy. His father was gone. His mother was on welfare. She was also "very religious" and "unique." She emphasized the "solid things."
Listen to what Billy Harris has to say:
"I grew up on 39th and Federal, you understand? There's graffiti on the walls that we made. We gang-banged [street fights, not sex]. Gang-banging is peer pressure. It wasn't like you had a choice. I never grabbed pistols and stuff to go out and shoot people, but there were times when I had to bug a little bit to make it, you know what I mean? That's not something I'm proud of, that's just survival. You can't survive being neutral.
"I played organized basketball as early as grammar school. I could dunk when I was 12 years old. We had a little crip line going, me and the other young dudes my age, and I came in, man, and I went up on it, you know, and, boom, I threw one down, you dig? These dudes at the other end of the court are high school All-Americans, and they stopped and came down there and said, 'Hey, blood,' you know? 'Let's see you do that again, Jack.' I was five-foot-nine.
"So I came down, and boom, threw another one down. They said, 'Hey, come down to this end.' It didn't dawn on me then what was happening. In less than two months my game went from being a beginner-type dude that could jump and play to being a force. They wanted me to shoot the' jumpers, you understand what I'm saying? I knew right then there was something different about my game.
"We'd hit 60, 70 points a game. I didn't measure myself on if we won the game. I measured myself if when the game was over I had my 30 or 35. If I got 26, I didn't feel good. If I got 29, I didn't feel good. I had to do that because I knew I could. In the seventh, eighth grades, at Crispus Attucks, I was always the high-point man.