Connor Atchley: Graduating to new heights
Oct. 7, 2008
Janice Lu, Texas Media Relations
Like their title implies, student-athletes are often reminded that they are students first and athletes second. With the help of a strong academic support staff, they learn to balance the two roles. Sometimes, because both have such grueling schedules, it is easy to sacrifice one for the other.
Such was not the case for University of Texas senior center/forward Connor Atchley. Taking advantage of a redshirt his first year, Atchley was able to do something very few of his peers have been able to replicate, graduate in four years while making vast improvements in his game.
Though it may seem ironic, one of the biggest reasons Atchley made it priority to earn his degree was his love for basketball. While he hopes to continue playing after college, he also wanted to have a solid backup plan in case things didn't work out. That security net was found in the form a college degree.
"Graduating was really important to me, because basketball doesn't last forever," Atchley said. "Eventually, you have to take what you learn in school and apply it to a job. One of the key things in earning a job where can support yourself and your family is having a degree, so my degree is something I take a lot of pride in."
In addition to wanting a degree for personal reasons, there was another factor that influenced Connor's desire to graduate, his family.
"It's something my family always wanted," Atchley said. "My sister graduated from UT in 2007 from the integrated MPA program. Having two family members graduate from the same university is an achievement that not a lot of people can say they've done. My education was something that was always expected, and I wanted this degree for my family, too."
"In his time at Texas, Connor has become a new person," Ryan said. "He has grown up at Texas, as a student and as a person. As a result, his effort, his attitude and his enduring spirit have become the cornerstone of this team in so many ways.
"Achieving an undergraduate degree in corporate communication with a business foundations minor in four years while playing basketball is truly an amazing accomplishment," Ryan added. "This success in the classroom has added to Connor's confidence on the court."
May 16, 2008 will always be a special day for Atchley. On that Friday afternoon, Atchley walked into the Frank Erwin Center not dressed in a basketball uniform, but rather in a cap and gown. Instead of his name being called as the starting center for the Texas Longhorns, his name was announced as a soon-to-be graduate of the College of Communication. And unlike game days where the crowd is raucous and on their feet, sounds of applause were interspersed among the sea of proud families.
"Graduation was fun. It was cool to hear my name being called and to walk across the stage," Atchley recalled. "I really enjoyed having my family there. I have a small family, so there were no signs or air horns, just simple clapping. But that was all I needed."
In addition, graduation day not only meant earning his bachelor of arts degree, but also being qualified to receive the T-Ring, a special ring that is awarded to every University of Texas letterman who earns their degree.
"I got my T-Ring two weeks ago, and I'm really excited," Atchley said. "The ring symbolizes that you graduated while also playing athletics at Texas," Atchley said. "The whole symbol behind the T-Ring, and being able to receive that in four years, is something I really wanted. I don't really like rings, but that is one ring I'll actually wear because I've worked so hard to earn it."
Though he may be done as an undergrad, it does not mean that Connor is using his extra year at the Forty Acres as an academic "off-year.". Instead, being the high achiever that he is, Connor has already gotten a start on earning a master's degree in advertising.
"Graduate school was the next step," Atchley said. "I didn't want to be here just to be here. I'm taking some graduate advertising classes which are a lot of fun. They are the kinds of classes that make you think a lot and teach you to open up your mind and think differently and creatively about situations in life. It's a two-year program, so hopefully I'll get the chance to finish it out when all is said and done with basketball."
Now months into his first semester as a graduate student, Atchley has grown accustomed to graduate-level courses. Nonetheless, he uses the lessons he learned as an undergrad to continue his academic success at a higher level.
"It's different in the fact that the quality of the work our teachers and professors expect is higher," Atchley said. "Instead of a lot of tests, classes feature more projects and long-term assignments. But a lot of it is time management and making sure you stay on top of things. It's the same as what I learned as an undergrad. The more you procrastinate, the harder things become."
His coaches have also noticed Atchley's maturation as a college student.
With official practices quickly approaching, Atchley and the Longhorns are currently busy in preseason workouts. After having a breakout junior season, he is looking to continue developing his game in hopes of propelling him to a professional career.
"I really want to improve from what I was able to do last year," Atchley said. "I hope to be more productive offensively, play solid defense and get more rebounds. Everyone has a role on the team, I just need to play that role how I'm supposed to."
Though it will take lots of hard work and persistence for Atchley to realize his dream of playing professional basketball, this college grad has already proved that he is capable of handling tough challenges. And with his degree tucked under his belt, it looks like the future is shining bright for Connor Atchley.