The historically cluttered second-floor office of Bellarmine University men’s basketball coach Scott Davenport also doubles as his living room, scouting and recruiting headquarters and, at times, his motivational and counseling center.
Those one-on-one discussions with his players in his office are not always about basketball. His homegrown passion includes promoting equal success in academics.
Now in his ninth year – and with the 2011 NCAA Division II National Championship and a Final Four on his resume – he says every Bellarmine basketball player but one has graduated, and Coach Davenport vows to get him back for a cap and gown.
“Our goal is very simple,” he said. “We tell our players this will be the best four years of their lives, but that’s all in preparation for the next 40 to 50 years.
“We encourage them to use the sport – don’t ever walk around and say the sport used them. We tell them they are much more apt to get an MBA than play in the NBA.”
A large photo on his office wall adds credibility to that mantra. It was taken at the end of that 2011 championship run, the players leaping in the air, body-slamming each other; victory frozen in time.
Two of those players, Aaron Robison and Nick Holmes, now have their MBAs from Bellarmine, and a third team member, Stevie Loveless, will earn his in May.
“All of them are in their mid- to early 20s, have MBAs and a national championship,” said Coach Davenport. “That’s pretty good so far.
“There’s been seven players since I’ve been here that have played while they were in graduate school. There’s not a lot of coaches who can say that in a career.”
Coach Davenport said the groundwork for that success includes recruiting kids who have good family backgrounds, a strong work ethic and an understanding of what it will take to succeed – although those guiding lights haven’t always fully come on in high school.
Stevie Loveless, from Frankfort, Ind., had a very good high school career while carrying a 3.3 GPA but still found himself academically ineligible to play Division I college basketball because he hadn’t taken enough core credit hours to qualify.
“I was very athletically focused at the time,” he explained.
Only by taking summer courses before his senior year of high school, and then summer courses at Purdue University, was he even eligible as a basketball “walk on” at Purdue.
He stayed there for a year, transferred to Bellarmine, and was still considered a freshman academically in a basketball program where Coach Davenport expected the entire team to average better than a 3.0 GPA.
Mr. Loveless had had a strong interest in finance, business and investing since high school – but that was about it – and took those courses at Bellarmine.
He was still coasting as a student, carrying a B in a core accounting class. Then assistant coach Drew Cooper – who already had his Bellarmine MBA – called him in for a game-changing discussion, a talk Coach Cooper had with many athletes on the academic edge.
“Long story short,” said Mr. Loveless, “I got an A in the class and an A in every core class at Bellarmine the whole four years. I knew I had the ability to think critically, I had just never applied it.”
Injuries slowed his basketball career, but not his academic progress. He already has degrees in finance and accounting and will receive his MBA this spring – with a 3.9 GPA at all levels.
He’ll begin work this summer at Protiviti, a world-wide business risk and consulting firm with an office in Indianapolis, about 50 miles from hometown Frankfort.
“It was the culture of the basketball program and the business school,” he said, “that forced me to change my habits.”
Louisville St. X graduate Aaron Robison had Bellarmine basketball in his blood. His father, now a financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual, was a Bellarmine business graduate; his mother was offered a basketball scholarship there.
“They took me to my first game when I was eight days old,” he said. “It was always a dream of mine to play at Bellarmine.”
The dream took some work. After a good high school basketball career he attended the College of Mt. St. Joseph in Cincinnati – but he still wanted Bellarmine.
He came home and played summer basketball in the Bellarmine gym, trying to impress the coaches enough to allow him to walk on. He got a partial academic-athletic scholarship. Then a full one.
He majored in business, but didn’t think much about an MBA until he had a meeting with Dr. Dan Bauer, the dean of the Rubel School of Business, at the beginning of the second semester of his junior year.
“I had always wanted an MBA, but I never imagined I’d get the opportunity so early in life,” Mr. Robison said. “Dr. Bauer told me, ‘Hey, you’d be a great graduate student.’ He thought I would do a great job.
“Coach Davenport always stressed education, and I thought this wasn’t an opportunity I could pass up.”
Mixing basketball practice and travel, undergraduate classes and his MBA courses – which required two night classes a week of 2 ½ hours each – required some intensive scheduling by all parties involved.
It helped when Bellarmine allowed some of the graduate classes to replace some of his undergraduate classes. And all the basketball players had to fully coordinate all classes and basketball games by the first day of every semester.
Tutoring was available, but most of the work and scheduling fell to the student-athletes.
“It was tough,” said Mr. Robison. “That last semester I think I took 18 hours and four were MBA classes. There were some days it was real close and I had to run in and throw on my clothes for basketball practice.”
Following recommendations from two (non-basketball) Bellarmine MBA graduates, Mr. Robison was hired at a company called Mercer in Louisville’s Aegon Center, a human relations consulting firm where he deals in compensation management.
“Through the years at Bellarmine you really learn how to prioritize your time,” he said, “which has helped me now in the business world.”
His job at Mercer was only recently held by Nick Holmes, his Bellarmine teammate, who now works as a compensation analyst for Humana, a few blocks over.
Mr. Holmes played high school basketball at Elder High School in Cincinnati but also had some family history at Bellar-mine: His uncle, Mike Holmes, is in the Bellarmine Basketball Hall of Fame.
Nick Holmes had the academic credentials – a 3.9 high school GPA and a membership in the National Honor Society. His scholarship was always part athletic-part academic.
“The thing I figured out right away at Bellarmine,” he said of his basketball-academic schedule, “is you’ll never have six hours a day to study. You really don’t have two hours a day to waste. You learn to budget your time wisely.”
Mr. Holmes, who talks in precise paragraphs and then stops to listen for a response, has always wanted to be a businessman.
When Dr. Bauer also offered him the opportunity to begin MBA night courses in his senior year, he instantly accepted.
“Coach Davenport was 100 percent for it from the beginning,” he said. “He also said if you can do well in athletics and academics, you’ll do well moving on.”
What Mr. Holmes most enjoyed about the experience was that he joined a “cohort” of four other MBA students – none of them basketball players.
Their ages ranged from 21 to 38, their backgrounds from family business to General Electric employee to Naval Academy graduate to cancer research.
“I would have conversations with different age ranges and backgrounds on a topic I thought was cut-and-dried,” he said. “I learned there can be many solutions to a problem and you just have to pick the best one.”
Click here for more information on Bellarmine’s MBA program.