Grad-itude

Jan. 29, 2015

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

It wouldn’t be right to say life began at age 31 for Jarrett Jack but it would be fair to say his 31st year has been pretty good.

On Oct. 29, 2014, the day after turning 31, he opened his 10th NBA season, with his seventh NBA team, the Brooklyn Nets. That night didn’t go so well (Boston beat Brooklyn, 121-105), and the wins-losses ledger hasn’t exactly made 2014-15 a memorable season — the Nets fell to 18-27 following the 113-102 loss to the Hawks Thursday night at Philips Arena — but Jack is loving life and has found himself at home in Brooklyn.

“I’m lovin’ it. Everything’s cool,” said Jack, who made his 20th straight start at the point for the Nets Thursday night, during which he’s averaged 14.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.4 steals (unfortunately, the injury-depleted Nets are 8-12). “I’m getting acclimated to the city, the fans have been great and I’m definitely enjoying my time there so far.”

Life got even more interesting for Jack in mid-December and this time basketball actually was sandwiched the main event.

The day after the Nets’ 88-70 win over Philadelphia on Friday, Dec. 12, at Barclays Center and prior to what would be their 114-87 victory over the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on Saturday night, Dec. 13, Jack showed that his life is not defined solely by basketball.

Dec. 13, 2014 was about academics and taking care of some unfinished business.

It had been nine years since he left the Georgia Tech campus after his junior year, during which he became one of only eight Yellow Jackets to score 1,000 points (1,265, at 12.5 per game) and hand out 400 assists (543, fifth all-time in school history and 5.4 per game, fourth-best), while going back-to-back All-ACC (third team in in 2004, second team in 2005), and honorable mention All-America in ‘05, and helping Georgia Tech to the 2004 NCAA Tournament Championship Game (he was named Most Outstanding Player in the St. Louis Regional).

He hired a private jet to fly back to Atlanta, “my second home,” to participate in fall graduation, where he received his degree in Business Management.

“It was a whirlwind, crazed 24 hours but I was able to fit it all in my schedule,” Jack recalled. “The [Nets] did a good job of taking what I wanted to do into consideration and I just made my arrangements to make sure I was there for everything that was necessary as far as games.”

Getting to Atlanta on time for graduation was relatively easy. Relativity also was what inspired him to go back and complete his degree.

“I made a promise to my mom and my dad that I would go back and get it,” he said. “I really thank them. I didn’t really understand it when I made the promise but I’m glad I stuck to it and made it happen.”

The walk across the stage brought the relationship between Jack and Georgia Tech full-circle, albeit with a twist. What commenced at Alexander Memorial Coliseum ended in commencement at McCamish Pavilion.

“Man, it was a crazy feeling,” he said. “When I started my journey at Georgia Tech, the first place I visited when I came on my visit, was McCamish, when it was Alexander Memorial Coliseum. For it to end up being where I finished my academic responsibilities, was kind of ironic and kind of fitting at the same time.”

Jack compared graduating with getting drafted by the Denver Nuggets with the 22nd pick of the 2005 Draft (he was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers later that night and spent his first three seasons there — in addition to Portland and Brooklyn, he’s also played in Indiana, Toronto, New Orleans, Golden State and Cleveland.).

“Knowing that all the work that you put in, making a dream that you always worked so hard to get come to fruition,” he said. “This goes right up there with getting drafted as far as one of the better accomplishments in my life. I think that and graduating are kind of neck and neck.”

He worked to complete his degree taking classes over several summers, the time most NBA players were working on their games for the upcoming season.

“I only could do work during the summer because I physically had to be in the classroom,” Jack said. “I couldn’t do anything online or during the season. The summertime is when we have most of our time to finish things up. I was able to make the most of it. It seemed like everything was a blur after I had taken so many over the course of the summer but I’m glad I’m finally done with it. It was a great, great feeling.”

He fondly remembers his final class (MGT 4193 – Servant Leadership, Values and Systems)…well, sort of.

“Man, the name was so complicated that I can’t even remember it. While I was taking the course, I was like, ‘What is the name of this class, if I had to tell anybody?’” he said with a laugh. “It wasn’t bad, though. Professor [G. James] Lemoine did a tremendous job not making it work. He made it fun. He made the topics easy to grasp and easy to retain. That was the highlight of it.”

Lemoine, a PhD candidate in the Scheller’s Organizational Behavior program at Georgia Tech, certainly remembers Jack and has his own highlight. It came in the morning last July 10.

“He was watching his phone, getting texts from his agent — I knew what was going on, and he was always very attentive in my class, so I was OK with it,” Lemoine recalled. “Suddenly, his eyes lit up and he points to his phone, I could tell from the look that it’s ringing and it’s his agent. I nod and he walks out of the classroom. About 10 minutes later, he comes back in, eyes glowing, looks like he just won the lottery. He tells us what happened and how excited he is to go to Brooklyn. It’s a good time. We have a brief discussion about the leadership of NBA head coaches. It IS a leadership class!”

Lemoine added that once the discussion ended, Jack immediately refocused and resumed being one of the students.

“Here’s the really cool thing. About five minutes after that, the whole class is separated into their class teams, and they have to build a tower made out of spaghetti and marshmallows for bonus points,” Lemoine said. “So this multimillionaire, minutes after getting one of the most exciting phone calls of his life, this guy is building a silly, little marshmallow tower to help his teammates get a couple of bonus points. He didn’t leave early, he didn’t run out to party. He stayed, he participated, he helped his classmates score a few extra points, and he paid attention. That’s class, man. I don’t think a lot of people would do that.”

Not a lot of people would do what Jack did as far as going back to school, either. That’s a trend Jack is helping change in NBA circles.

“I have had a lot of people come to me saying, ‘Man, you really opened my eyes’ and have a lot of people wanting to go back and further their education,” he said. “My purpose for doing it was something internally, a family promise that I wanted to keep. I didn’t know what it was going to turn into but it came out of this so I’m happy with it.”

Jack also has no regrets about entering the NBA back in ‘05 and is happy with his life choice and where it’s led him.

“The experience has been great,” he said and smiled. “Being able to live in different places, experience different cities, the fans all across the grid, it’s been a fun situation, a fun time. And the journey continues.”

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