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Xavier Magazine | September 23, 2017

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In the Clubhouse

In the Clubhouse
By Laura Pulfer

Sr. Rose Ann Fleming’s special—sometimes loud—bond with men’s basketball: An excerpt from her book, Out of Habit

Out of Habit, My Life as Xavier University’s Unlikely Point Guard, explores Fleming’s powerful role with the men’s basketball team and its extraordinary academic success, due to her work as an academic advisor and support for the Sr. Rose Ann Fleming Endowment for Student-Athlete Success. This excerpt details her relationship with 1990 graduate Tyrone Hill.

Tall and aggressive, Tyrone Hill could dominate a basketball court, even as a freshman at Xavier. He also had a chip on his shoulder the size of a Volkswagen and a glower that could blister paint. Of course, I liked him right away. He was about to flunk a class because he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—write a philosophy paper that was due. A disgusted assistant coach dumped Tyrone in my office, and I steered him to the library. The smoldering athlete cursed under his breath. A single hissing expletive, the same word, over and over, almost in time with our footsteps. Lacking a dignified response, I just kept walking briskly, hoping he would follow. He did.

The first really great player I would work with, Tyrone was recruited from Withrow High School in Cincinnati and came to Xavier in the summer of 1986. As is often the case, he thought basketball was the main event.

“I’m here to play basketball,” he huffed.

“You are here to play basketball and to get an education,” I huffed back.

We had resident tutors/counselors who were supposed to make sure Tyrone studied. The counselors were cowed by him, but not so fearful that they didn’t spill the beans to me when he didn’t show up at the study table. The next day, I would be in his face. Friendly, but firm, I would walk him through what was expected. It happened more than once. So when it came time for the confrontation over his philosophy paper, we knew each other. I already had a hunch that when I marched to the library he would follow.

He respected me. And I respected him right back.

Besides his curiosity and intelligence, I genuinely admired his athletic ability, and I made it clear that I valued sports. I had several photos on my walls of Xavier teams. “Look at you, Tyrone,” I said, “the tallest player on the team. I bet you make things happen at practice.” Naturally, I went to practice to see if I was right.

Sometimes important bonds are formed just by being there. I think living at Manor House on campus was a distinct advantage for me. My work included finding students who didn’t want to be found. And I could run like a deer.

When it was first announced that basketball players were going to move into some of the units in the Manor House, Tyrone called to warn me.

“You may want to move,” he said.

“Why would I want to move?” I answered. “I’ve been there a while.”

“Because it will be noisy.”

The team had regular drug and alcohol testing, and they were typically exhausted during the season. They were not going to be up all night partying. I assumed they thought I would complain about their music, which was sometimes earsplitting. I said if they promised not to crank up the volume on LL Cool J, I would try not to pray too loud.

In Tyrone’s junior year, he grappled with the choice presented to many top college players—should he play pro ball or should he stay in college another year and get his degree? The NBA offers big money, and the contract doesn’t come with a bookbag and a nag. He asked me what he should do. In my head, I was shrieking, “Don’t go. Don’t squander your hard work. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.” But we try to teach our students to make their own good choices.

So, I said calmly: “Tyrone, life is like strategy for a big game. If you maximize all the opportunities and minimize all the obstacles, you win.” He decided to stay and collect the degree he had earned.

Tyrone Hill was chosen by the Golden State Warriors in the 1990 NBA draft and went on to play for Cleveland, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. He retired from basketball after coaching for the Atlanta Hawks, then he spent time in Cincinnati, rebuilding a playground in the Evanston area where he grew up. For a while, he owned a company called All Net Records, which released music by groups including OTR Clique, D’Meka and KompoZur. I am not familiar with these artists, but I assume they are loud.

(Donations are welcome to the Sr. Rose Ann Fleming Endowment for Student-Athlete Success fund which is part of Xavier’s All For One Fund. Out of Habit is available for purchase at
xavier.edu/alumni/book.)

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