Athletes must strive to set the bar on how to lead by example, accept responsibility for their actions, and rise above all obstacles thrown their way. And for three heralded freshman on the West Virginia University men's basketball team that's exactly the message they want to deliver.
Devin Ebanks, Kevin Jones, and Darryl Bryant are participating in the University sponsored program Student Athletes Speak Out. The program is an outlet for student athletes to travel to public schools in the Morgantown area and deliver motivational speeches for the area's students.
The project began in 1990, under the direction of speech pathology and audiology professor Carolyn Atkins. The program, which was originally intended to help develop the ability of WVU athletes to conduct articulate post-game interviews, has evolved into a character-education lesson plan for students throughout the area.
"The flying WV makes spirits soar all across West Virginia," Atkins said. "The players do such a good job at the schools. They are great advocates for WVU, their programs, and their teams."
The program was on full display on Thursday, October 30th, when the players gave their speeches in front of a public audience in the Jerry West Mountaineer Room inside the WVU Coliseum. The three roundballers, along with six other WVU student athletes, gave their speeches verbatim as they would to the middle-school aged students in an attempt to give the public an inside look at the messages they were sending the area's children.
The trio of freshman presented their stories to the students in speeches ranging from their greatest role model, to appreciation of their parents, to facing the challenges life presents you, not avoiding them.
Darryl "Truck" Bryant, who acquired the nickname when he was little because he would run over anyone, gave his speech on the greatest role model in his life.
"My mother is the greatest influence in my life, anything to make me smile she would do it," Bryant said. "Remember the people in your houses; they'll be the biggest role models in your life."
Highly recruited freshman Devin Ebanks is not only a star on the hardwood, but also doubles as a motivational teacher for children throughout the area. He explained the importance of always using your manners and respecting the rules and guidelines your parents set.
"I learned responsibility from my mother. She worked in a correctional facility in Queens, N.Y. and was a tough lady – that's why I didn't break her rules," Ebanks laughingly said. "There's a time for work and a time for play, and there is definitely a difference. I had a great role model, and was one of the lucky ones."
Kevin Jones spoke on always looking at difficult situations as challenges, not adversity. He used his own personal example of not making his eighth grade basketball team because the coaches felt there were better older players. Instead of shying away from the challenge, he took his brother's advice and worked even harder to achieve his goal. The hard work paid off as he made the high school varsity team his freshman year, jumpstarting an outstanding career which culminated in receiving an athletic scholarship to WVU.
"You can overcome any adversity in your life," Jones said. "What doesn't kill you can only make you stronger."
While the messages being expressed by the players are very serious, there is always time for some amusing questions from the students. When asked the most common questions the players had received:
"They asked how tall I was," admitted Jones. "And what coach Huggins was like."