May 21, 2014
Thanks to Okaro White Florida State University head basketball coach Leonard Hamilton has another victory. This win will not be found in Hamilton's career won-loss record, however.
White graduated from Florida State with a degree in social science on May 2 to become the 41st Seminole basketball player since 2002 to earn a degree while Hamilton has been in charge of the program. Those 41 players have scored 51 degrees--undergraduate and master's are included in the total.
Winning on the floor is of utmost importance to Hamilton but he also recognizes the value of his players leaving Florida State with a degree. During his career as the head coach at Florida State University and at the University of Miami, more than 93 percent of his senior players have earned their degrees.
"Don't get me wrong," Hamilton says. "Winning on the court is important and I understand that. Our team has been ranked high in the ACC standings and I am not satisfied unless we win the conference championship and participate in the NCAA Tournament.
"But we can't lose sight of our goal-- giving our young men everything possible to learn about the world we live in today. One goes to school to prepare for later life. It is more important that we evaluate young men as husbands, fathers and citizens than their accomplishments in athletics."
White is the latest success story. He admits that in his first two years as a Seminole he was not completely focused on academic accomplishments. Yet the product of Clearwater (FL) High School could not have been more excited about walking across the stage and accepting his diploma.
"School work was very difficult," White says. "I was having a great time on and off the court. I had to grow up and learn how to balance my life. Eventually I understood the importance of getting a degree. I probably had a chance to leave and turn pro after my junior year but realized I wanted to make my mom proud."
His mother, Charmaine, who participated in Olympic track for her home country of Jamaica, made sure her son knew it was important to earn his undergraduate degree.
"I never made it," Mrs. White says. "His graduation means the most to me. The first time we visited Florida State Okaro was 14 and I knew then it was where I wanted Okaro to play and learn. Coach Hamilton made sure academics would be part of Okaro's focus, not just basketball."
It was not easy for White to work on his degree while also playing in the rugged Atlantic Coast Conference where he eventually participated in more games than any other player in Florida State history. Somehow, thanks in part to Hamilton's passion for education, he found the proper balance.
Dr. Elizabeth Peters, an anthropology professor, watched White grow as a student.
White did not shy away from a challenge, either on the court or in the classroom.
In his final semester, he registered for a class at the 4000 level taught by Dr. Peters. The work included essay examinations, an oral presentation and eventually a written presentation to complete the course.
"I was surprised when he registered for the class," Dr. Peters said. "It's a lot of work, but probably worse to think about than actually doing it.
"Okaro has an outgoing style that allowed him to engage in class. He would ask questions and worked hard. He would express himself and that is unusual for athletes in the classroom.
"Okaro understood why it's worthwhile to attend class and get a degree. He was making the most of his academic opportunities. It was a pleasure to work with him."
The fact that White was successful in such a demanding 4000 level course is a testament to Hamilton's desire for his players to make the most of academic opportunities.
"One of his promises to my mother and I was that he took education very seriously," Okaro says. "He expects his player to do their best in the classroom and makes sure the opportunities exist to do well. If I had to miss practice because I was meeting with a teacher that was okay with him. He expects you to do your best."
Hamilton is somewhat shy about accepting even partial responsibility for Okaro's degree.
"Okaro's approach to academics stems from his mother," Hamilton said. "Their relationship is very special. He has tremendous respect (for her) and when he got his degree it fulfilled a promise he had made to her."
Maybe that is why she recalls "saying thanks to the Lord when Okaro was given his diploma and walking across the stage and saying `my work is finished'."
Congratulations Okaro, Charmaine and Coach Hamilton. A job well done.
By Mark Carlson, Special to Seminoles.com