Course(s) of Action

Marvin Williams has dedicated himself to getting his college degree.
By Jon Cooper

Marvin Williams may have only played one year of college basketball but he is not your typical one-and-done.

Sure, he fits the description — he attended the University of North Carolina for one year, then, after scoring the winning basket in the Tar Heels' 75-70 2005 National Championship Game victory over Illinois, declared for the NBA Draft and left Chapel Hill after the Atlanta Hawks selected him with the second overall pick in the Draft.

While he was done with college basketball, he was not done with college. He still isn't.

He wants to graduate and is determined to do so.

"It's so important," said Williams, who is pursuing his degree in African-American Studies at North Carolina. "The one thing you have to realize — and I think I've realized it — is that you can't play basketball forever. There has to be life after basketball and I hope to fall back on my degree once I am done playing."

There's no heart-warming, deathbed promise made to a loved one that inspired Williams to stay on the road of higher education. He's simply a self-starter, who likes to finish what he starts.

"My parents never sat me down and said, 'You have to finish school' and I never promised anybody that I was going to finish school," he said. "It was just something that I wanted to do. i would really like to do it for Coach [Roy] Williams because he did give me an opportunity to play there. So I'd really like to do it for him but I'd like to do it for myself, too.

"I started it. I might as well finish it," he added. "It's not as hard as people think it is. The one thing about me, I know myself and I know that if I would have stopped I never would have gone back. So I've just never stopped. I just try to keep the ball rolling."

Williams' original course of study was Sociology. But then he discovered African-American studies, found it compelling and more compatible to his schedule, so he switched. One of his favorite courses he's taking is AFRI-101, Introduction to Africa.

"I thought it was interesting," he said. "It's basically contemporary Africa studying Africa in the past and how to fix the debt."

His mission to get his degree has meant sacrificing personal time but it also has brought out important aspects within himself, like his ability to focus and to prioritize.

Those abilities were evident on the Hawks' most recent road trip that saw them criss cross the country twice. With so much time spent flying between cities, Williams frequently found himself having to choose between hanging out with teammates or going off by himself to work on an assignment.

"Most of the time I play cards with the guys but if I have a deadline to meet, I'll sit out and focus on my homework," he said. "I think the toughest thing about it is to stay disciplined."
Ironically, one thing that has slowed Williams’ pursuit of his degree has been the Hawks’ recent pursuit of an NBA Championship.

"Early in my career when we weren't making the playoffs I'd go back for summer school," he said. "But since we've started making the playoffs I usually miss a session or two. So it will probably be a couple more summers."

Williams can wait. He knows that the end result is worth it, having seen one of his younger brothers graduate from Western Washington University.

"I was proud of my brother. It was something he had worked hard for," he said. "I was really proud of him to see him graduate college. I'm sure my parents will be proud of me when I do it."

Williams hopes that kids who see what he's doing will follow his lead and take the initiative to continue studying and never give up trying to attain a degree or to simply better themselves through education.

"If I was to be able to inspire kids to either play basketball or get an education I would take the education," he said. "I feel like I've accomplished a few things in my life, I've made it to the NBA. But once I get my degree I feel like that will be my greatest accomplishment."