Playing smart
Donny Beacham scores on the basketball court and in the classroom

by Mickey Seward

Donny BeachumSophmore Donny Beachum, the valedictorian of his high school class, successfully balances athletics and academics as a starting forward for the Mavericks.

No one doubted Donny Beacham could play basketball.
Signed by UTA after leading Dallas' James Madison High School to the state finals in 2000, he knew how to electrify crowds with acrobatic dunks and intimidate opponents with his long arms and 37-inch vertical leap.

"Basketball is how I got to UTA. But I'm here to do more than play basketball. I'm in college to become a positive person and a leader, to receive an education and make myself somebody my family will be proud of."
–sophomore Donny Beacham

Turns out he also can think. And study. And he's not alone among UTA student-athletes, as 45 percent earned a spot last year on the University's honor roll.

Beacham owns a 3.67 grade average as an information systems sophomore. He was valedictorian of his high school class and finished first in the Math Olympiad as a member of the National Honor Society.

No question the term "student-athlete" applies.

"Basketball is how I got to UTA. But I'm here to do more than play basketball," said Beacham, who averaged six points and six rebounds in 22 games as a freshman. "I'm in college to become a positive person and a leader, to receive an education and make myself somebody my family will be proud of. Still, I want to be the best basketball player I can be, too."

A matter of priorities

Last season started off as a frustrating one for Beacham, who missed the first six games after injuring his knee in the initial practice. Once back in uniform, the 6-5 forward quickly gave head coach Eddie McCarter reason to rave.

"Donny's a great rebounder and a great defender," McCarter said. "He may not always be scoring, but he's always making something good happen.

"I wish I had 10 guys just like him who are going to be as successful as he will be."

Assistant coach Scott Cross has some experience at meeting goals himself, being named an Academic All-American by Verizon and the Collegiate Sports Information Directors of America when he played for the Mavericks. He said Beacham excels because he puts in the effort. "You have to be very disciplined to do what Donny is doing," Cross said. "He has his priorities in line, and that has made him very successful."

The fourth-year assistant told of how Beacham shows up at study hall even though he's not required to, and of how Beacham helped a teammate study for an exam that he had struggled with earlier. The teammate passed with points to spare.

"He didn't need that much help, really. I just gave him a few tips and showed him some strategies for passing the test," Beacham said. "Sometimes people need other people to motivate them. It's our responsibility to do well and to make sure our teammates are doing well."

A winning mix

Junior forward Mack Callier, a preseason All-Southland Conference pick this season and an Academic All-SLC selection in 2000-01, knows how difficult it is to mix athletics and academics.

"It's tough trying to study and play basketball as best you can all the time. It's a challenge," he said. "We know it's difficult for Donny to do that. What he does says a lot about him as a person and as an athlete."

Beacham, who plans on becoming a computer programmer, credits several coaches and teachers for his success. "I had a lot of teachers in high school who cared enough to put me in more difficult classes that would challenge my mind. A lot of coaches went out of their way to help me become a top-level player."

Now he's passing it on. He has strong opinions about what education has done for him and what it can do for others.

"Learning is a tool to use in life. If you succeed in school, you can use that to succeed in life. … If things get hard and you give up, you will be left in the cold."

Don't expect Beacham to feel the least bit chilly any time soon.



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