You are here

Northwestern’s James Montgomery earns celebrity with his scholarship

When cameras showed up at a Northwestern men’s basketball team meeting, James Montgomery and his teammates were told they were collecting footage of first-year Head Coach Chris Collins. Montgomery never expected to leave the meeting a full-scholarship student-athlete and an Internet sensation.

“I was in shock for a couple of days,” Montgomery said, “I kinda still am, actually.”

To date, nearly 1 million viewers have watched the YouTube video of Collins praising Montgomery’s hard work and dedication, then announcing that the walk-on and former women’s practice squad player would be placed on full scholarship his senior year. According to the coach, neither the team nor Montgomery knew the announcement was coming.

“It’s been great to see all the attention he’s gotten from it because he’s such a humble guy,” Collins said.

The scholarship will cover the remaining portion of Montgomery’s senior year. His first three years were paid through financial aid and loans.

Undergraduate tuition and room and board at Northwestern costs $59,389 for 2013-14.

“There’s so much talk about giving student-athletes stipends and even some people arguing to pay student-athletes,” Collins said. “In reality, especially at a school like ours, which is well over $200,000 [for four years], the value of getting a free ride at a school, a free education like Northwestern’s, and to be able to do that through the vehicle of basketball, to me, is an amazing thing and is an amazing reward and does have monetary value.”

The value of that education is not lost on Montgomery, a mechanical engineering major, who was recruited to play basketball at other schools. He chose Northwestern because of the academic opportunity it offered. Montgomery’s father is also an alumnus.

“Both my mom and dad came from inner-city schools and went to prestigious universities and then both went to law school,” he said. Montgomery’s mother, who can be heard crying and screaming on the video when her son tells her about the scholarship, earned a full-ride academic scholarship to UCLA.

“My family is riddled with great people,” Montgomery said. He mentioned with pride an uncle who served as a Tuskegee Airman in World War II and two sisters, one with medical challenges, who give him daily inspiration.

But it is his 12-year-old brother who Montgomery credits with instilling his drive to set a good example and succeed. “It’s a responsibility, but I like it because it keeps me going. It’s my motivation when I don’t have it myself,” he said.

Collins said Montgomery isn’t just setting a good example for his brother, but also for his teammates. “He’s had to work for everything. He’s had to earn everything he’s gotten,” he said.

Still reeling from the attention the video has garnered, Collins said the teammates joke that they’re probably the only Big 10 Division I team whose most famous player is a walk-on.

For his part Montgomery isn’t letting the new-found fame go to his head. “A lot of time, people talk about proving doubters wrong,” Montgomery said, “but I think it’s just as important to prove the believers right.”