In 2015, Thurgood Marshall Academy (TMA) graduated its first student with a full athletic scholarship to college. Malik McMillian (TMA ’15) currently plays basketball at Barton College, a division II junior college in Kansas. McMillian, who plans to study engineering when he transfers to a four-year university in 2017, admits that balancing both basketball and academics was challenging his first year.
“I gave basketball my all, and when it came to school I did enough to get by,” he said. Like TMA, Barton College requires student athletes to maintain a 2.0 GPA; McMillian earned a 2.1 second semester. “Next year, I want to get at least a 3.5,” says the athlete. In addition to attending study hall, another requirement for student athletes at Barton, McMillian plans to improve his academics by building a schedule and cutting back on his personal gym time. “After practice was over at 8 p.m., I’d go to the gym for another few hours to develop my game. Next school year, when practice is over, I’m going to the library.”
Like many Thurgood Marshall Academy students who graduate and journey off to college, McMillian realizes that the principles he learned and the rules he had to follow in high school prepared him for success. “On a scale of one to ten and ten being most important, time management is a ten,” he said. “That’s basically what college is about. TMA prepared me for time management.”
The benefits of punctuality was another lifeskill that McMillian learned over the years. He remembers the first time he was late to basketball practice at TMA. He didn’t think much of it since Lafayette Dublin (Coach Laf) was the new coach. When he arrived to practice, he planned to join the team for a workout but instead had to master a disciplinary activity. “Coach Laf made me run laps across the gym, bent over, with my hands gliding on a T-shirt, while everyone else worked out together.”
Under his athletics contract at Barton, McMillian was redshirted for the first season, only practicing with the team. But as fate would have it, there was a shift on the team and he was able to play Point Guard, a position that directs the team’s offense. McMillian credits Coach Laf for pushing him to the next level. “In the city I’m from, not many of us in Ward 8 go
to college for sports.”
His most memorable moment with Coach Laf, who still coaches TMA’s Boys Varsity Basketball team, was during a team lock-in, a weekend event that built team comradery. “We have the same struggles and are just trying to make it out. All it takes is one of us, then the door will be open for us all.”
McMillian joins more than 500 alumni of TMA who are graduating college at rates five times higher than their neighborhood peers. While managing basketball and academics was a challenge for him his first year in college, McMillian remembers Coach Laf’s advice. “He’d always tell me ‘student comes before athlete.’ Now I see what he means.”
McMillian has already put his time management goals into practice. This summer, he is taking online courses while training for next basketball season with George McCullough, former college basketball player and math teacher at TMA.