Final Four Focus provides coverage of the Final Four by standout students enrolled
in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.
In its inaugural year of an agreement with the NCAA, the Curley Center provides students with the opportunity to work side-by-side with members of the media at the Final Four.
Matt Fortuna, from New York City, has worked for four years at The Daily Collegian, currently serving as arts editor after covering and editing sports for three years. His freelance work has appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, The New York Times and the Detroit Free Press, among others. Previously, he’s held internship positions at the Altoona (Pa.) Mirror and with MLB.com in Pittsburgh. This summer, he will return to MLB.com as an associate reporter covering the Yankees.
Nate Mink has worked four years at The Daily Collegian, currently serving as a copy editor after providing football coverage the last two years. His freelance work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press and Baltimore Sun, among others. Previously, he’s held internship positions at The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., and the Philadelphia Daily News. This summer, he will work as an associate reporter with MLB.com in Philadelphia.
By Matt Fortuna
Special to NCAA.org
HOUSTON — Kemba Walker's biggest assist this season has not been to Shabazz Napier, Alex Oriakhi or Jeremy Lamb.
Instead, Felicia Crump, the academic counselor for men’s basketball at the University of Connecticut, has been the most important beneficiary of Walker's selflessness.
"So much easier," Crump said of her lighter workload, thanks to the leadership Walker has shown off the court
The junior point guard is set to receive his sociology degree in August, almost a full year ahead of schedule. And no one appreciates that more than Crump, who has had the demands of her job stretched over the Huskies' amazing 11-game run what will on Monday become a 27-day postseason span.
"If he's not on time, he's always early," Crump said of Walker. "He will pull the other guys and say, 'You gotta be here. You gotta get your work done.' So it's been great when he's in study hall working or the first one there or staying late because he has the most aggressive schedule.
"The younger guys don't know any different, so they just follow suit, which has been amazing and it's been great for me because other guys are talking about, 'I wanna be on the path that Kemba's on. How do I do that? What do I need to do to do that?' "
Talking to Crump is a good starting point. The Hobart and William Smith graduate found herself with the Huskies as a graduate assistant from 2006-08. She returned to Storrs, Conn., in her current role last January, succeeding Ted Taigen.
She has been called the team mother and even team grandmother, though she would prefer to be known as the team sister. Crump grew up with a brother six years older, so they did not attend high school together. She has willingly assumed the role of devil's advocate with a group of 14 men in the midst of a lifetime trip to the Final Four.
"I'm definitely the one that brings them down to earth," Crump said. "They don't always appreciate it, but it's necessary. This is my first time being at a Final Four, so being on the road for this long, it's been challenging. It's hard. But when they see me around this time of the year, they might be ducking a little bit."
She will catch up to them when the time is right, working around the players' schedules and never pestering them to the point of anything beyond a casual eye-roll.
The routine has changed a bit here, as UConn arrived Wednesday and has not had the normal study hall it has each night on a routine road trip. Crump has kept busy emailing teachers, making phone calls and reminding players to check their emails and have their work in on time.
At the beginning of the NCAA tournament, Crump had to contact all of the players' teachers and map out a two-week plan should the Huskies win four games and advance. Five games later, her professional life has become a bit more chaotic en route to a potential national title Monday night.
"I always want what's best for them," Crump said. "Being part of the program, I want them to have the full experience, to realize themselves on the court and off the court. And it makes my job harder, but when they're winning on the court they have more energy in general for school anyway. And this is a really good group that is academically-minded, so they're aware of the classes they're missing and they're doing their best to keep up. It's not a struggle for me."
Nor has it been one for coach Jim Calhoun, who has an open-door policy with Crump in case anyone veers off-path. But with a national sensation on and off the court in Walker, order has been served throughout the season.
Few could have anticipated his run to this point, but Crump foresaw a busy semester regardless, a semester whose seeds were planted almost a full year ago, when Walker approached her with the idea of graduating early.
Crump devised a schedule heavy on essays instead of tests, independent studies so he could work on his own time, and once-a-week, three-hour-a-session night classes so he would not miss as many. Walker has now been taking classes every semester since the Fall of 2009, staying in close contact with Crump throughout this past summer to get all of his assignments in on time while travelling the country with the 2010 USA Select Team.
The hard part of this week for Walker and his teammates will come at tipoff Monday night against Butler. The harder part will come when they return to Storrs
“This is an amazing experience for them, and I'm so glad they can have it," Crump said, before cautioning, "it just means we have a lot more work to do once we get back to campus."
Matt Fortuna is a senior in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State University