In recent years, Kenny Donaldson gently reminded some of UCLA’s former basketball stars that he could help them return to school to finish their degrees. As UCLA’s athletics assistant director of academic services, Donaldson hoped that any former Bruins who had left school early to play in the NBA would eventually find their way back to campus and work toward graduating.
Thanks, in part, to the NBA lockout, Donaldson’s had a handful of players take him up on his offer this summer. UCLA’s American Popular Culture class now has four out-of-work NBA players – Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook(notes), Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love(notes), New Orleans Hornets forward Trevor Ariza(notes) and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Baron Davis(notes) – among its students. In addition, Milwaukee Bucks forward Luc Mbah a Moute is taking two classes this summer. Having begun their professional careers, all of the players are paying for their tuition and books.
“When the lockout looked like it was going to be a definite thing, I kind of sat down with each of them and laid out a game plan,” Donaldson said. “You don’t want to get them back in something that they’re not going to be interested in. I presented them with options and they found classes that they thought would be interesting, and are easing back into it right now.”
When Ariza first came to UCLA in 2003 from Los Angeles’ Westchester High School, he didn’t intend to stay long before moving to the NBA. After averaging 11.6 points and 6.5 rebounds as a freshman, he declared for the 2004 NBA draft and wasn’t selected until the 43rd overall pick in the second round by the New York Knicks. With Ariza acknowledging he was more focused on pursuing a professional basketball career, Donaldson doubted he’d ever return.