For the second year in a row the Lipscomb women’s basketball team was honored as one of the top 25 Division 1 schools in the country academically, a sign, Coach Frank Bennett said, that his program is starting to master the “student” part of the student-athlete equation.
The Lady Bisons were ranked No. 21 in the 2011 Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Academic Top 25 Honor Roll, released this week.
The team finished ninth in last year’s poll. South Dakota State was ranked No. 1 this year, while Lipscomb’s ranking was the highest of all Division 1 schools in the South.
“We’re really proud of the honor,” Bennett said. “It says a lot about the amount of effort our girls have put in. We try to be the best at whatever we’re doing. Some of that is on the basketball court, but it’s also spiritually and in the classroom.”
Aside from the recognition just meaning his players are smart, Bennett said the ranking more reflects the hard work put in by players of varying academic abilities once in Lipscomb’s classrooms.
“Not everybody is capable of making an A in every class,” Bennett said. “But you like to see improvement and that your players are doing their best. Over the years a lot of times you see players struggle early on in their academics but we want to see them work through those times. They can learn time management, but it’s not easy being a college athlete.”
Toia McGowan is a player that comes to mind for Bennett whenever he thinks of hard work in the classroom. The former Lady Bisons player struggled with schoolwork early in her career, Bennett said, but she stuck with school even after she lost her scholarship for a semester during her sophomore year. After improving her study habits, Bennett said, McGowan walked during May’s graduation ceremonies and will officially graduate once she finishes her summer externship.
“She finished so much better than she started and we’re proud of that,” said Bennett. “She got a little better every year.”
With the effort of Bennett’s recent teams in the classroom, he said that Lipscomb is starting to become a destination that top high school athletes are drawn to for academic reasons.
“It’s an exciting time at Lipscomb,” Bennett said. “We’ve got nice athletic facilities, but we’ve got strong academics, too. We’re really able to bring in good students. The faculty does a good job selling the academics and it’s not hard because they’ve got good programs. Smart athletes want to come here.”
Bennett said he takes academics into account even at the early stage of the recruiting process.
“You see their basketball talent,” he said. “Once you see that they can play you want to get an idea of how they’ll do in school and whether or not they’re responsible enough to succeed.”
Once his basketball players arrive at Lipscomb, though, the support is there, said Bennett.
“We have required study halls for freshmen. If they make certain grades they get exempt from those for their sophomore year so that gives them even more incentive to do well as freshmen, I guess. We try and do whatever we can to make them successful.”
This support and the emphasis Bennett and his staff place on academics is a good selling point to parents concerned about how their kids might do in college.
“I think athletes are interested and it leaves an impression on parents, as well,” Bennett said. “They may be worried about how their kids will do but we can show them other kids that have come here and have been successful on-and-off the floor.
“Hopefully, all this becomes a part of the atmosphere here and we like being recognized for the work our players do. We want an environment where our players can grow into a total person. It’s not just about playing basketball.”