Four former ASU men's basketball players return to school to earn degrees

Roy Joshua, Tyrone Jackson, Eddie House and Byron Scott all earned Liberal Studies degrees

Many athletes come to college to further their sporting careers. Some, if their talents are highly sought after in the professional realm, make the jump and leave their studies behind. Some others simply never complete their studies.

But four former ASU men's basketball players, Roy Joshua, Tyrone Jackson, Eddie House and Byron Scott, came back to finish what they started, earning their degrees and becoming part of ASU athletics' 2019-20 graduation class.

All four players earned bachelor's degrees in Liberal Studies. But the journeys they took to get there were far from the same.

Six schools, one diploma

Joshua is 63 years old, has two grown adult children and hasn’t picked up a basketball for ASU since 1979. He’s been a real estate appraiser for the last 38 years.

But 41 years after playing his final game for the Sun Devils, Joshua came back to school and earned his degree.

"Now I can finally consider my education at ASU a success as well," Joshua said.

Besides taking online classes at ASU, Joshua took courses at San Jose State, Notre Dame, San Jose City College, Chamberlin Real Estate School and Evergreen Valley College to progress toward earning his degree.

To make his journey even more atypical, he changed his major five times, including once last year while taking courses at ASU.

“I’m going to use my new BA degree to work as a substitute teacher, tutor and mentor at a local high school,” Joshua said.

What had kept Joshua persistent toward his goal, despite the many years it took, was inspiration from his family and two coaches he played for: former San Jose City College head coach Percy Carr and former ASU head coach Ned Wulk.

“I know it might sound a little backward, but my two children were my greatest inspiration to graduate,” Joshua said. “They are both college graduates and have worked as teachers, counselors and mentors for low-income high school students.

“When I grow up, I want to be just like my kids.”

Joshua cites his wife as a foundation to his educational success. His parents — his mother a teacher and his father a former high school valedictorian — were also two central figures in helping him push toward his goal.

He’s even enjoyed sharing the difficulties of homework, tests and exams with his two eldest grandchildren who are both in high school.

“When this pandemic is under control, I plan to bring my two teenage grandkids to ASU for a campus tour and I’ll make sure to take them to the gym and my old hangout, The Chuckbox, for a burger and a belated Tempe graduation celebration,” Joshua said.

A coach, a teacher and their student

Jackson needed the help and inspiration of multiple people to earn his degree, namely an academic advisor.

"Arizona State had great programs and people to work with, like Shay Jewett," Jackson said. "She set our classes up, made sure we got the tutors we needed, making sure we got our study hours in."

Jewett, now an academic advisor for five ASU athletics teams, has worked in the student-athlete advising program for the past 21 years after serving as the director of counseling at Colby Community College in Kansas. 

Jewett acknowledged she had never considered teaching seriously as a career. But once she got the job, her transition to becoming an academic coach was seamless.

“For the coaching staff, academics were important," Jewett said. "So, we worked together very well by being able to identify what the team goals were, how to work with the individuals that were on the team and just keeping them posted with a day-to-day progress report.”

But Jewett would have never entered Jackson’s life if it weren’t for former men’s basketball coach Rob Evans.

Evans has always valued education as a coach. It’s why he hired Jewett in the 1999-00 season to help keep his players in educational shape.

“I talked to Kevin White, who was the athletic director (at the time), after the first semester, and I said, ‘I need somebody to answer to me that I can talk to every day about these kids, because I’ve got to make sure they graduate,’” Evans said.

House and Jackson were two players, among many, who worked with Jewett during her time with Evans' teams. House was a senior and deeply involved with his basketball career by the time Jewett had entered the frame. But Jackson, who she worked with during his time with the team from 2004-06, had particularly fond memories of working with Jewett.

Jackson noted Jewett's passion for helping him succeed in school, saying she pushed athletes to succeed “as your mom would.”

“Shay did a tremendous job with those guys,” Evans said. “She would call and tell me ‘Eddie’s back in school’ or ‘Tyrone’s back in school’ or (former Sun Devil guard) ‘Steve Moore is back in school’ and I would make contact with those guys all during that time.”

That persistence and hard work with Jewett finally paid off for Jackson. With his degree now in hand, Jackson says that his goal is to get a teaching degree. His former English teacher and close friend, Kathy Brandes, had always wanted him to reach for that goal.

“She (told me) that she wasn’t going to retire until I got my teacher’s degree,” Jackson said. “She loves kids, she’s been a high school teacher for as long as I’ve known her.”

While playing basketball for ASU, education was never Jackson’s top priority. But with the help of Jewett, Evans, Brandes and many others, getting that education became his new priority after his playing days. 

“I’ve always talked to my guys about finishing what you started,” Evans said. “The ball’s going to fall flat for everybody, so you have to make sure that you have that degree.”

Living up to his promise

With an NBA championship, 11 years of experience in the league and his son, Jaelen, now a rising sophomore on ASU’s men’s basketball team, Eddie House has devoted his life to the sport that has given him so much. 

“He’s one of the toughest players that I ever coached,” Evans said. “He was in such great shape that nobody could continue to run with him on the opposition.”

Evans recalled one moment during the preseason of House’s junior year when the guard broke his jaw during a drill in practice. 

The break was severe enough that House needed his jaw wired shut and, since he couldn’t chew, forced him to drink food out of a straw. This condition lasted for months, yet House never missed a practice that season.

“I told him during the year ‘Whenever they take the wires out of your jaw, I’m going to take you out to dinner,’” Evans said. “When he got his jaw open, he came by to see me and said he was ready to go to dinner.”

But that persistence House consistently displayed while playing for ASU didn't translate to the classroom for him during that time.

“He was more interested in pursuing his basketball than he was his academics,” Evans said. “I stayed on him. I stayed on all of my guys a lot. We had rules that if they weren’t in class, they weren’t coming to the gym to play.”

Among those rules, Evans had his players run five miles at 5 a.m. if their grades didn't meet certain standards, labeling the group as the “five at five club.”

“I think House might have been in there one time,” Evans said. “Most of them have been there at least one time, but they don’t come back a second time.”

House certainly is not the only player to exhibit a lack of determination in the classroom during their time in college. Evans described that most athletes, either while in college or later in life, learn to understand and devote more energy toward their academics.

And House did eventually allocate more time into his studies. His grandmother, who was a major influence on his life and had numerous conversations with Evans about House’s schooling, deeply cared about his academics. House had even promised her that he was going to eventually get his degree.

“As he generally did, he lived up to his promise,” Evans said.

'Take your butt back to school'

Like House, Scott enjoyed a fruitful NBA career, playing 13 seasons and winning three championships as a player before becoming a head coach for another 15 years in the league.

But, like House, Scott had made a promise. 

"It was a promise I made a while back to my mother," Scott said to Sun Devil Athletics in May. "She passed a few years ago and that thought came back to my mind that I had promised to get my degree,"

As the first member of his family to ever go to college, Scott’s mother valued the importance of his education. So, when Scott was ruled academically ineligible following his sophomore season, his mother was far from pleased.

“When I told my mom that, she said ‘Take your butt back to school,’” Scott said to Sun Devil Athletics. “She wanted me to do her a favor and go to class and to try and learn and give it a chance.”

Scott's mother passed away in 2015. It was her persistence that inspired him to finally deliver on the promise that he made decades ago.

That same perseverance is what House’s grandmother, Evans, Jewett, Brandes and Joshua’s family have in common. And it took a while, in some cases decades, for them — their loved one, student, athlete — to reach that goal of graduating, but they did. 

“Life is amazing. Celebrate the successes, learn from the failures,” Joshua said. “Enjoy every moment.”


Reach the reporter at kbriley@asu.edu and on Twitter @KokiRiley.

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