Student of the Game

September 28, 2013
Jarrett Jack
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

You only have to spend a minute with Jarrett Jack to realize why he’ll be a perfect addition to a team whose nucleus is barely old enough to order a beer.

Signed this past offseason, Jack emanates experience and an on-court authority. He’s been a double-digit scorer five times in his career and has made a pair of trips to the postseason – including last spring’s riveting run with the Warriors. After being tabbed with the 22nd pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, Jarrett Jack has played less than 79 games in a season only once in his eight-year NBA career.

So heading into this season, it’s probably safe to say that when Jarrett Jack talks, the youngsters will listen.

But Cleveland’s young guns can learn more from Jack than just how he orchestrates the fast-break or defends the pick-and-roll. The veteran guard simply has a solid grip on life.

Some NBA players feel that reaching the league is the culmination of their life’s goals. But for Jack – and his parents – it was only part of what would make him complete.

The 29-year-old starred at Georgia Tech, leading the Ramblin’ Wreck to the NCAA Finals as a sophomore and leading the team in scoring the following season. After his junior year, Jack declared himself for the NBA Draft. But he still had unfinished business in Atlanta, leaving GT before earning his diploma.

That changed this past offseason, when Jack completed his course requirements and graduated with a B.A. in Business Management from the prestigious southern school. It was a long journey, intertwined with a successful pro basketball career, but Jack was determined to finish what he started.

As much as any member of the squad, Jack understands the value of an education. And this Saturday, one of the newest Cavaliers walks the walk – spending this Saturday afternoon at the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland on Broadway Ave.

He’ll be joined by DJ Steph Floss, who’ll spin beats for the event, as each member of the Club will receive a Nike rope sack jammed with all the school supplies they’ll need to hit the books this fall. There’ll be face-painting and special appearances by the Cavs game entertainment teams along with a few professional barber shops on-site, giving youngsters a nice fresh look for the start of the school year.

Before the event, the savvy veteran sat down with to discuss his own quest for a degree as well as the importance of a solid start for the next generation …

Was it an epiphany that made you return to Georgia Tech for your degree or something you’ve been working on for a while?

Jarrett Jack: I’ve been doing it the past eight years. When I told my (parents) about leaving school early to pursue my dream to become a professional player, they didn’t quite understand. They wanted me to stay in school throughout all four years. That’s more of what they knew. But once I explained to them the business aspect of it, they were all on board.

But they were both really adamant about me going back and fulfilling my academic requirements. And with all the sacrifices that they made for me and my brother growing up, I figured this is the one thing I can do to pay them back.

You stayed at GT through your junior year, so you must have been somewhat close to completing your degree.

Jack: I was close. But going to a prestigious school like Georgia Tech, close or rounding third is still quite a bit away.

And you have to think, during the season, you’re taking five or six classes, so when you come back in the summer, and it’s your offseason, you don’t want to have to go through days where you’re taking classes from eight in the morning until three or four in the afternoon every single day. You want to have some downtime to yourself to appreciate what you just went through – a grueling, 82-game season – and still be able to enjoy yourself.

Once you reached the NBA and had some success, did you ever waver on your plans to return?

Jack: No. I was always going to do it, but gradually. School wasn’t going anywhere, and neither was my drive to finish what I started. So, I still had the passion to do it and, like I said, wanted to repay my parents. And this was the best way.

What is/was your major?

Jack: I went for Business Management. Figured it was something I could apply to my field, as far as what I did. And if I ever wound up in a position of power to manage my own business – or someone else’s, for that matter – I’d be qualified to do so.

Returning to school after leaving for a couple years, did you gain a new perspective on your studies?

Jack: It was definitely more beneficial the second time around. A lot of the classes that I took – about branding, ways to separate your brand, making it more exclusive or more attractive, this is what we go through here in the NBA. The teams that I’ve been on have had teams to make our team stand out from the others or have a slogan as to what the city gravitates to and it fits the team out on the court as well.

Going through those classes helped me have a better perspective on those things. It felt like they were talking to me instead of at me, like it seemed when I was a young 18-year-old kid trying to figure out branding and what all that stuff was about.

Do you think your story can inspire other players to return to school and follow your path?

Jack: Just try to be as well-rounded as you can. If you get to be an NBA player and you don’t go back to school, I’m not saying that you’re wrong. But if you want to do something after you’re done with that NBA career, a college degree these days is the bare minimum. You want to set yourself apart from people. ‘Yeah, I played in the NBA. But I also went back and I have this on my resume, as well.’

I think it’s something that’ll help you stand alone in the long run. And it’ll definitely be beneficial and help you look the part as well.

Any chance you’ll return to school and advance your degree after your playing days?

Jack: (laughs) I doubt it. With whatever I feel like I’m going to dive into, I think I’ve already done my due diligence as far as making myself attractive to whatever that situation might be.

So this has been a long process that’s been going on throughout your NBA career?

Jack: Yeah, it was like right after my rookie year. I think I took one summer off. I’ve been pretty steadfast and consistent with it and just gradually worked my way towards the finish line.

And you were always going back to Georgia Tech to finish?

Jack: I live in Atlanta; that’s what made it easy. I didn’t have to switch credits or transfer anything. I was able to kind of just go back to my old stomping grounds. A lot of the kids would just look at me and laugh, like: ‘What are you doing here? You’re financially stable.’ And I’d say: ‘That’s not what it’s about.’

I’m just trying to be the most well-rounded person I could be and I know fulfilling these requirements are going to help me in that process.

Knowing the importance of education and success in school, did that inspire you to host Saturday’s “Back to School” event for the Boys and Girls Club?

Jack: When you’re a kid – or just anybody – when you look good, you feel gooddo good.

And I know there’s certain situations where kids aren’t afforded the simple things – like a haircut or school supplies that their other classmates may have. And at the starting point, you kind of want everybody to be level; to come in there with the same know-how and with the same materials to make themselves as polished as they can.

And for me, it’s a way of me introducing myself to the city instead of the other way around. And it’s kind of introducing myself as ‘Jarrett,’ rather than ‘the guy in the jersey with the other 15 dudes.’

So I’m try to just take a step forward, introduce myself, put my hand out before they put out theirs. And we’ll find a happy medium.

Generally speaking, how do you like Cleveland so far?

Jack: I like it, man! I wasn’t aware of how big a sports town it was.

When people mention the ‘sports towns’ around the country, it might be the East Coast bias, but it’s always Boston or New York or Chicago. Cleveland is right up there on that list!

The fans have been very, very outspoken with me, and I appreciate it – I like it! I always told myself when I was younger: I want to go to a team or go to a city where the team and the organization are taken seriously. And I’ve been in some places where that’s not the case. Here, it feels like you’re part of something more than just the basketball team.

Yeah, we take our sports pretty seriously here.

Jack: No doubt! And that’s the part I really, really appreciate about this city.

And, as far as the Cavs, we’re gonna do our best to put the best product out there on the floor to represent not just us but the entire city of Cleveland as well.