INDIANAPOLIS — Forgive Gordon Hayward for daydreaming.Twenty-four hours before the biggest game of his life, the Butler star will be sitting in a lecture hall instead of a locker room. His hometown Bulldogs might be the toast of college basketball, but that won’t get the sophomore out of attending class the day before taking on Michigan State in the Final Four. Thanks to an unbalanced schedule (who takes Friday classes anyway?) and a bracket-busting run through the NCAA Tournament, Hayward is scheduled to study applied mathematics before studying the Spartans on Friday.Such is the life of a student-athlete in the Final Four.Butler teammate Shelvin Mack said as soon as his Thursday news conference was over, he had to run back to the team hotel and write a four-to-six page paper.Such is the life of a student-athlete in the Final Four.But not all of the athletes are able to stay afloat academically as much as Mack and Hayward. Some players feel as if they are totally immersed athletically and will just have to deal with classes once they get back to campus after the tournament.“The last two weeks, I’ve been to maybe four classes total,” Butler center Matt Howard said. “It feels like an extended spring break, you can’t really beat that. You’re playing basketball and that’s about all there is. That’s a college player’s dream.”Juggling academics and athletics is a laborious task amid a month appropriately known as “March Madness.” And when you’re forced to spend a majority of the time away from your classrooms and teachers, it can be a particularly difficult one, too.“We were in San Jose and Salt Lake City for the tournament,” Hayward said, “and right before that we had spring break. We’ve missed almost a month of school probably.”Such is the life of a student-athlete in the Final Four.Making up missed lectures and assignments can be a heavy burden, and one that falls on the players and the team’s academic support staff. But when factoring in games, travel, practices, film sessions, team meals, team meetings, medical treatments, media availability and pep rallies, you’re not left with a whole lot of time to hit the books. It is the ultimate test in time management. Find a way to keep your grades up, while also finding a way to keep your hardwood dreams alive.Some schools consider themselves well-trained experts in that area, such as Michigan State, which has been to six Final Fours in their last 12 years under head coach Tom Izzo.“We’ve had so much success that we have a nice template for dealing with the tournament,” said Jim Pignataro, Michigan State’s director of student-athlete support services.The proactive plan takes chance out of the equation. Spartan players prepare for a Final Four run in February, getting ahead on their class work and doing as much as they can academically before the athletic portion of their lives ramps up. Tutors aren’t allowed to travel with the team, but nightly study sessions are as commonplace as wind sprints in the Breslin Center. In his 15th year with the Spartans, Pignataro said he has learned to try and work with the players individually, because each one faces different circumstances and different classes.Players from all four schools benefit from having understanding professors. When your excuse for missing class is, “I’m playing in the Final Four,” and not, “My dog ate my homework,” teachers tend to be a bit more flexible. And with paper syllabuses becoming a thing of the past and online classes becoming more and more prevalent, Pignataro said it is becoming even easier for students to keep up during the season.Take Spartan senior Raymar Morgan, an advertising major, for example. Morgan has been taking advertising classes for four years and his professors know this time of the year tends to be busy for the basketball team.“They know him. They know he’s responsible. They know he’s busy. We work something out ahead of time and we almost never have a problem,” Pignataro said.The same is the case at Duke, where Academic Coordinator Kenny King oversees the team’s academic work.“I tell the players at the beginning of every semester that the best way to prepare for conference and postseason travel is to build strong relationships with their professors and that starts with great communication,” he said.King said the players do as much as they can before they leave and frantically try and catch up once they get back, but a lot of their class work is done on the run, which he described as no easy task.“Over the past three weeks, we’ve submitted multiple papers and had to prepare for multiple exams the Monday or Tuesday immediately following our first four rounds,” he said. “We have had to carve time out on the road to make sure we are prepared for the next play, so to speak.”Senior guard Nolan Smith said King does a good job of staying up on them, whether it be a 9 a.m. wake-up call reminding them to go to class or helping them back at the team hotel with an assignment.“Our focus is on a national championship, but we also have to take care of our responsibilities in the classroom,” Smith said. “We are still student-athletes, and the student comes first.”While Hayward and Howard said classes are few and far between in the month of March, West Virginia Educational Counselor Erica Wycherley said her players have been able to attend classes with some regularity at the beginning of the week.“You don’t hear much about the other half of their lives, but these kids are still engaged,” she said, “they are still very much involved.”With all of their tournament games being played in New York leading up to the Final Four, the Mountaineers have done more than their fair share of commuting. But Wycherley said players have been able to get back to campus to touch base with teachers. And although the school is currently on spring break, Wycherley said she doesn’t have a hard time convincing her players to study when the time comes.“The players know I’m pretty reasonable,” she said. “I try and keep a fair balance, because I understand what they have to do basketball-wise. It’s not like I’m saying, ‘Da’Sean (Butler), you have to be in study hall every day on this trip.’ It’s, ‘Okay, let’s set some time aside to get this done and we’ll work at it one piece at a time.”And if that doesn’t work, Wycherley said she could always turn to the coaching staff to provide a bit of extra incentive.“We used to do something that whenever someone missed study hall or a meeting with a tutor they had to flip this massive tractor tire 200 yards,” she said.But for the most part, such punishment is never needed. Wycherley said the players often call her for help and are aware they’ll have plenty to do once returning to campus — national championship trophy in-hand or not.“They are going to have to work double time compared to the average student because they are behind,” she said. “I don’t think people realize the actual time commitment of playing and traveling.”Hayward does. He’s already planning on being swamped once things quiet down and his college life is restored to some form of normalcy.But for now, Hayward will keep living the dream, and likely keep daydreaming as he sits through one last math class wondering what the weekend will hold.“The teachers have been really helpful to us,” he said. “When we go to class, a lot of it is, ‘Congrats’ and ‘Just do what you can do and do the rest when you come back.’” Such is the life of a student-athlete in the Final Four.A team of Indiana University journalists is reporting for the Final Four Student News Bureau, a project between IU’s National Sports Journalism Center and the NCAA at the men’s tournament in Indianapolis.
Published on March 31, 2015 at 11:29 pm Contact Matt: [email protected] | @matt_schneidman Facebook Twitter Google+ Tom Grimm wanted to be next.He grew up idolizing Mike Powell, a fellow product of Carthage (New York) High School and a four-time first-team All-American and NCAA attack of the year at Syracuse.“I think it was every little kid’s dream from Carthage, growing up in that program,” Grimm said. “They want to be the next Mikey Powell.”Grimm was rated the No. 7 attack and No. 15 overall player in the high school Class of 2011 by Inside Lacrosse. He was recruited by SU to be an offensive weapon, but that never materialized since the Orange’s offense was crowded and Grimm just wanted to get on the field.Now, the junior short-stick defensive midfielder has embraced his less glamorous role. Grimm is given more freedom as a defensive midfielder since he comes from a primarily offensive background, and takes significant stock in the piece he fits to the puzzle for No. 2 Syracuse (7-1, 2-1 Atlantic Coast).AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“He’s definitely accepted it,” assistant coach Lelan Rogers said. “Once they buy into that role and they understand it, their opportunity to get some goals here and there and just play more comes maybe through the defensive side of the field.”When Grimm first came to Syracuse, he wasn’t physically ready. He arrived weighing only 155 pounds and redshirted his first year.He put on 20 pounds that year, crediting his dining hall meal swipes and open buffet 2–3 times each day to his weight gain. In high school Grimm didn’t lift weights at all, he said, so having a structured program at Syracuse helped as well.But a year passed, the Orange’s midfield and attack were still crowded and Grimm just wanted to step on the field.“So they said my best bet would probably be to switch to defensive middie,” Grimm said.At Carthage, Grimm played some long-pole midfield in addition to attack, Rogers said. That eased the transition to more of a defensive-minded player since he already had some of those philosophies ingrained.Grimm’s older brother, Jamie, played defense and his oldest brother, Rob, was on offense. The youngest of the three said he got the best of both worlds, which basically defines the role he has now.“What everyone wants is a two-way middie,” Rogers said. “And Tom can do both. We could leave him out there offensively if we wanted to.”Rogers added that the secret to finding the best defensive midfielders is finding ones who take it to heart when they get beat one-on-one. From years of being beat in basketball, football and video games by his older brothers, and even seeing video game controllers break in competition, Grimm has molded himself into exactly what Syracuse is looking for at the position. “I’m very competitive; if they beat me, you get upset, you get mad about it,” Grimm said of his brothers. “That’s the same thing with defense, if a guy beats you, you take it personally, it’s a one-on-one battle.”And now that Grimm has embraced the nitty-gritty position he’s found himself at, he’s no longer the offensive machine that had 245 goals and 245 assists in high school. His first goal just came a month ago against Virginia, and that was almost 32 games into his career.“It felt like high school all over again,” Grimm joked.He knows it’s not a position that produces goals and assists. He knows that his job is to sprint the length of the field. And he knows not much about his role is flashy.Grimm even smiled and said he trusts his attacks way more than himself to shoot the ball, so he doesn’t even tend to revert to a part of his game that once defined him.But for him, that’s all right.“If anything, I think he’s embraced the role,” head coach John Desko said. “I just think he’s playing his best lacrosse of his career right now.” Comments