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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Athletes on campus: they’re just like you, kinda”

    College is a funny part of growing up. It’s a stage in life that represents a transformation from being a kid to being an adult. It’s the awkward moment in time when your Pops says, “”Hey son, check this out,”” and flips to the centerfold of a nudie mag.

    Or your mom says, “”Hey lil’ girlie, look at that mailman. God, I’d love a piece of him.””

    You love what you’re seeing but you feel very nervous about it. You want to call all your friends, but instead you smile sheepishly and nod your head.

    It’s the way a college student may feel when he or she gets up close and personal with an athlete at their school. You may want to smile and jump for joy, but in most cases, you must hold it back. They may be one step lower than professional and get national recognition on ESPN, and you want to talk to them, shake their hands and tell them you have a poster of them hanging above your bed in your dorm room. They’re your heroes, and you want to tell them.

    Don’t do that. Talk to them, but don’t drool on them. With some exceptions, they’re just like you.

    The UA has more than 450 Division I athletes roaming the campus – and that doesn’t include the hundreds on club teams. Many of them will end their playing careers as Wildcats. Some will make millions in the professional ranks. Others will go on to compete in the Olympics, become coaches or end up on the cover of Sports Illustrated or Playboy magazine.

    But no matter how famous they become, while they’re in college they’re just like you. Sure, they get priority class registration, get sent to the front of the line when buying textbooks and get cool red and blue Arizona backpacks for free, but even though your “”get list”” is much smaller, you’re not so different. They’re supposed to attend lectures and write term papers just like you. They go to class; they go to clubs and parties.

    Coaches know about the last part, too.

    When talking about how players should seek advice from NBA general managers before declaring for the NBA draft, last year’s men’s basketball interim head coach Kevin O’Neill said, “”An agent might lie to you. Your friend you play beer pong with might tell you, ‘Hey, I think you are a lottery pick,’ or whatever it may be. … GMs are not going to lie to you.””

    Wow, athletes play beer pong, you ask?

    Athletics director Jim Livengood will hate me for writing this, but yes, they do. They’re in college, remember? You know what else they do that you do, too? They wipe their own – well, let’s not go there.

    This isn’t to shine a negative light on athletes or damper their importance to the school. It’s simply to help you realize that they are student-athletes, with an emphasis on student first, giving them a more mortal appearance to those who are quick to drop to their knees and kiss the athletes’ toes.

    Chances are you’ll have several classes with athletes during your time at the UA. You may be the lab partner of a future professional all-star. You may have to create a PowerPoint slideshow with them. Hell, you may even trade CDs with them in a music class.

    The last one – let me tell you – is a fun experience.

    I think I still have a CD made by recently drafted basketball player Jerryd Bayless. But no, it’s not surprising to me that he listens to music, nor should it be to you, either.

    At that moment that you’re paired up, remember you’re classmates – equals. Treat them like human beings, not gods. You can glorify them when they’re competing for the UA.

    You may share the hall of a dorm or apartment complex with a UA athlete. Enjoy their company but don’t be a stalker – it’s creepy. Unless something giant happens. Then you have temporary stalking rights.

    In 2005, UA quarterback Willie Tuitama – then a freshman – lived in La Paz Residence Hall. After the Wildcat football team upset then-No. 7 UCLA 52-14 at Homecoming, Tuitama’s door in the dorm was covered in sticky notes and paper. “”I love you”” and “”Call me baby”” notes all over.

    That was OK. That was monumental for a team that went 3-8 that season. Tuitama deserved to be glorified for that game.

    It’s true that some athletes can’t wait to get out of college, but most tend to enjoy their time at the UA because, again, they’re college students.

    Bayless was someone who stayed only a year but clearly enjoyed his time. I asked him what he thought of sorority girls last year. He looked to his smiling teammate, Chase Budinger, then back at me with a big grin of his own.

    “”They’re nice people,”” he said.

    Former Wildcat Richard Jefferson, who’s prepping for his eighth season in the NBA, told me this summer that even though he makes millions, “”nothing in the world compares to college.”” He still has a scrapbook full of old Arizona Daily Wildcat articles written about him. Nostalgia at its best.

    So when you see an athlete on campus – or at a club or party – during your time at Arizona this semester, be sure to treat him or her like a peer. Don’t make it awkward. Athletes here are students, too.

    They’re just a lot more athletically gifted than you are.

    ð- Lance Madden is a journalism junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

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