With no athletic scholarships and schedules often jam-packed with multiple obligations, Division III student-athletes still make time for the sports they love while pursuing academic excellence.
In Division III, pretty much all sports are non-revenue-generating, and student-athletes compete in front of small groups of fellow students and diehard fans. There are few perks though. Athletic departments try to make the most with what they have, driven by the desire to give sports-minded students a complete collegiate experience.
These schools are both rural and urban, and some are known for their exceptional academics. No matter the situation, you can always find athletes as passionate about their sports as a cornerback at an FBS school in the Power Five.
The lack of glamour doesn’t diminish their love of competing and the pride they take in representing their college or university. We check in with three D-III student-athletes, who share what is driving them to achieve excellence.
Point guard Ephraim Reed is back home in Northern Virginia completing his freshman year online. Even before coronavirus ended intercollegiate sports, he was off the court with a torn plantar fascia. Throughout basketball season, he remained steadfast in his commitment, attending every game and traveling with the team, which gave him the opportunity to bond with his teammates and learn nuances of the sport.
Growing up, Reed thrived in the intensively competitive basketball scene in Northern Virginia. Although he played AAU (travel team), he wasn’t getting D-I athletic scholarship offers, but was garnering attention from the Ivy League (the Ivies play D-I, but don’t offer athletic scholarships).
“I went to different camps—Columbia, Yale, UPenn,” Reed says. “The D-III coaches were always there. After one camp, NYU’s head coach introduced himself to me. I was talking to NYU along with, I would say, almost 10 D-III schools, but NYU was recruiting me the hardest.”
Reed had to decide between NYU or trying to walk on at Harvard or Duke. He was offered academic scholarships by Morehouse College and Hampton University, but basketball drove his decision. At NYU he could keep playing the sport he loved and pursue a major in sports management.
“Basketball brings me joy,” says Reed. “I’ve had a passion for the game ever since I was about three years old. My senior year of high school, my team won a state championship. [NYU’s] conference in D-III … is playing against guys with high basketball IQ and very skilled. Being able to continue to play and pursue something for the next four years, it’s a great opportunity I didn’t want to turn down.”
He is a recipient of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholars Program, one of the most prestigious honors programs at NYU. It requires him to maintain a 3.5 GPA and commit to 15 hours of community service per semester. He’s given time at the Bowery Mission and at a food pantry in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn. The basketball team as a whole has partnered with Team Impact and “adopted” a fifth-grader who is battling leukemia.
The diversity of NYU and New York City continuously opens his eyes to new perspectives and being part of NYU’s basketball team gives Reed the discipline to excel.
“Being able to stay focused and have a goal to work towards has helped the overall college experience,” says Reed.
While senior guard Annie Barrett is incredibly proud to have finished her college playing days with a trip to the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Tournament, she is disappointed that she won’t get to celebrate with a graduation ceremony, which has been postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19.
Barrett chose NYU for its diversity. “It’s incredibly global and international in the diversity of the people and the courses I’m able to take,” she says. “I’ve taken some incredible classes that I don’t think I would have found at any other college,
like the history of espionage and animal ethics.”
Playing basketball since the age of six, Barrett’s love for the sport drove her determination to play in college. “From a young age, it was my calling,” she says.
In high school, Barrett toyed with the idea of trying to play D-I, but soon realized she wanted more of a balance between academics and athletics. During the recruiting process, she primarily looked at D-III schools, and the consistent success of NYU impressed her.
“We’ve had winning seasons every year that I’ve been here,” Barrett says. “That’s one of the best parts about NYU, the winning culture and the championship mentality. We got a new coach last year and she’s an alum. That puts even more pride into the program and makes you want to win even more.”
She can’t imagine what her college experience would have been like without basketball, especially the people she has met and relationships she’s formed. Overcoming a torn ACL helped her grow and develop as a person.
“That experience kind of shaped my perspective on life and basketball,” says Barrett. “Taking what I’ve learned in the classroom and leadership skills to the court and vice versa — using the team-building, camaraderie, time management and organizational skills to connect my whole college experience and make it more holistic.”
Her major has encompassed sociology with a focus on social justice and its historical context, and her favorite course has been the Constitution and People of Color. Her final semester she is taking a Black Cultural Criticism class, for which she’s writing her thesis. Barrett has been accepted to graduate school for a master’s in public administration and is contemplating starting in fall 2021.
“Ideally, I want to do something in non-profit or philanthropic work that connects and impacts people through sports,” Barrett says.
Growing up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, senior forward David Melman adored the game of basketball and dreamed of playing in the United States. Being strategic, he realized attending college in the U.S. furthered his chances of playing in the NBA, so he attended a bilingual high school to gain English proficiency.
In Argentina, if you have NBA potential, you likely become a professional athlete as a teenager. Given his family’s emphasis on academics, Melman wouldn’t do that. “I loved basketball more than anything, but I was not willing to give up school,” he says.
Although he is six-foot-five, Melman’s basketball resume was limited to club play. He did the common application and applied to 20 U.S. colleges and universities with Division I basketball programs. He was accepted at several, but did not hear back from the coaches and couldn’t afford to attend those schools without an athletic scholarship.
A company in Argentina that matches aspiring student-athletes with U.S. schools found Brooklyn College (part of City University of New York), which plays Division III. Despite the strain of balancing school and sport, he has played on the basketball team throughout college.
“I needed that journey,” says Melman. “I couldn’t let basketball go. You can’t let yourself fail. It’s ingrained in my personality and I do it with everything I do.”
This year, Brooklyn won the CUNY Athletic Conference Championship and advanced to the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Tournament.
His winning mentality carried into academics and because he combined pursuit of sport with school throughout his life he was used to having multiple demands on his time. “I had to learn time management very early on. You stay on top of things,” Melman says.
Throughout college, Melman has given time to community service, volunteering for youth sports clinics, hospital visits and food service events. Of course, there were some academic challenges and bad days in practice, but he sees that as part of the process. He’s always looking for the next challenge.
“It’s the idea of not being satisfied,” says Melman. “It’s a blessing sometimes because it’s a driver, and sometimes it’s a curse because you have to enjoy. College was a great experience in ways that I expected and ways that I didn’t expect. Crowning it with a championship was very special.”
This article originally appeared in the May 28, 2020 edition of Diverse. You can find it here.