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Players report to study hall after practicing for several hours and eating a big meal, not exactly a combination designed to increase alertness. Knight occasionally wanders around the room shaking the players who have fallen asleep at their carrels. The athletes frequently complain to Knight when they are assigned a male tutor, and she does her best to find female tutors for them. "They're around teammates and coaches all day, and they have a curfew at night," she says. "So they like being around female personalities."
Knight often wonders, though, what kind of message it sends to the young black men in her care that virtually all their tutors—people they identify as intelligent—are white and female. Cal's Baker is so worried about this sort of psychological imprinting that she seeks out minority and male tutors. "If you have all white women doing the tutoring, it creates a dangerous idea," Baker says, "especially for the black males. They need a diversity of role models. Before they leave here, I want them to be tutored by other black males, by Asians, by handicapped people, so they know that any group—including theirs—can be successful."
Baker presides over nightly 3½-hour sessions that include individual tutorials and numerous work groups, which often crackle with energy. The study sessions are mandatory not only for freshmen athletes but also for athletes identified as being "at risk" because of poor grades or personal troubles. Baker takes a sort of grim satisfaction—but little credit—when the intensive intervention works. "I find it so frustrating when a student who wasn't targeted to go here makes it and we're given the credit," she says. "It's a real disservice to the student—especially the black male—because even when he's done it, he doesn't think he has."
DuShon Brown, a sophomore point guard, is well on his way to having made it, despite being stigmatized as Cal's first Prop 48 athlete. "People were labeling me as a dumb kid," says Brown. "I'd have to explain to them that I was just 10 points shy [of the 700 requirement] on my SAT scores. I was always defending myself."
Brown had done little in high school to prepare for Berkeley. "I had a lot of favor with the teachers," he says. "I might have studied occasionally, but I was focused on basketball. It wasn't until that first year of college that academics slapped me in the face. I got scared and said maybe I'd better start putting some time in."
He went from studying four hours a week—"max," he says—in high school to hitting the books as much as four hours a night at Cal. "Getting thrown into this academic war, I don't know where I got my strength," says Brown.
He points out that Baker first taught him how to study and then how to learn. "I was the type of person who didn't trust people at first," says Brown. "But Jo Baker took me in like a son. She would go to extremes to make me study. Sometimes she would even lock me in a room. She actually cares, and you can feel that warmth."
Last year Brown felt "divorced" from the team as he forlornly watched his teammates head off for practice every day. "Looking back, I think it was a blessing I didn't play ball," says Brown. "By the second semester, my mind was actually being used for the first time. And I liked it. When I was growing up, I was spoon-fed by the TV, but when I started to read, I was able to create my own images in my mind. It was beautiful. That carried over onto the basketball court, where I began to think more in terms of creating new images. Now whenever I want to relax and clear my head, I just pick up a book and start to read."