Trojan Chat: Justin Piergrossi

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TSV: Tell me a little about the award.

JP: It’s a combination of academ­ics and athletics, so it takes both into account, and as far as I know we had the highest GPA of any men’s basketball team in the state. It’s only been awarded three or four times in the last decade in men’s basketball.

TSV: What do you feel your role is in helping them reach this?

JP: I definitely think stressing how important the athletic side of it is, and it’s not something we just talk about, we have to follow through on it as well. So, talking about academics, having study halls for our players, and emphasizing it with showing them how important it is for them to continue their aca­demic career or their athletic career. (We’re) just letting them know that there’s no one without the other, they go hand in hand; they are student athletes. The student part is always first, in our program and any other program they’re ever going to have the opportunity to be a part of. We do a lot of counseling of the players academically, putting them on track to get their degree and putting them on track to be eligible to go play for a four-year university when they’re done. I have my Master’s degree, my assistant has his Master’s degree; school has been very important to us. (Academics is) not something we just talk about, we emphasize it and follow through.

TSV: What do you think they learn in basketball practice that they can relate back to their academics?

JP: Discipline is extremely im­portant. On the basketball court we talk a lot about paying attention to details. We tell them all the time that what happens between the lines on the court is always going to affect their life off the court. You can’t be someone that, on the basketball court, takes pride and pays attention to detail, and not have that carry over. At the same time, if you don’t do that on the basketball court, it’s going to carry over to the classroom. We talk a lot about the connection between the two, but definitely the discipline required to be successful on the basketball court, paying at­tention to detail, and having a plan. They all have a plan in their bas­ketball career, how to improve and where they want to go, and if they don’t have that same plan academi­cally, then they’re going to fall short of their goal. Work ethic is extremely important in basketball, we obvious­ly stress that academically (too). Just putting the time in for our guys and structuring their time, the work ethic and how to approach their classes and academics is extremely impor­tant. The adversity they face every day of being in a competitive sport (also helps them). On the basketball court, you have to work with a team, just like in some classes you have to work in groups. On the court they have to deal with somebody else having control and power, whether it’s their coach or the officials, and then in the classroom the professor’s got the control. I think just trying to deal with that adversity nonstop on the basketball court also helps them in the classroom.

TSV: Do you think winning this award will help the players get scholarships in the future?

JP: I don’t know if the award on its own is going to necessarily help them, although they all had to do well in school individually as well so that’s obviously going to help them. We’ve had a lot of success with our guys moving on; in the past five years we’ve had 17 guys get of­fered athletic scholarships. They’ve all had to get a certain amount of coursework done to be eligible for those so, this is one step for these guys preparing themselves to be able to go play. I don’t think they’re go­ing to get a scholarship just because people find out they got this award, but like I said, them doing well is going to help them.

TSV: Is there anything else you want to say about the team winning this award?

JP: We don’t ever want to take for granted how hard they have to work to achieve results like this. I don’t think our guys are necessarily any different from any other student, but just getting here every day is a challenge sometimes, and to produce the academic success they did, took a lot of determination and work ethic from them. We tell them, we don’t want to take it for granted, we know what a sacrifice it is sometimes to make sure they’re here, to make sure they’re on time… For (any) student to have that kind of academic suc­cess would be something that should be applauded and recognized. We’re very proud of it; it means that maybe the message about how important (academics) is is sinking in. The more guys that can get that message, the better. We won’t stop trying to deliver that message, and hopefully it gets received.