Xavier Basketball Players Find Help from a Sister

As we've discussed here previously, the ministry of women religious has expanded over the past decades. Today's New York Times includes an excellent example of the way in which one sister uses her many talents as an academic adviser Xavier University's Division I student athletes. Sister Rose Ann Fleming has not just earned impressive credentials and numerous degrees, but the respect of the coaches and players, as well:

She has lived on campus since 1983, when she was teaching at Xavier, in a dorm that for a long time housed the men’s basketball team. (For a couple of years, she lived across the hall from David West, now an N.B.A. forward — and a Xavier graduate.)

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She rises at 4 a.m. for an hour of prayer and meditation. Then she usually spends an hour or more at the computer, often researching law cases that she takes on for Volunteer Lawyers for the Poor. (A law degree is one of several she holds, including Master’s degrees in English, business administration and theology, and a doctorate in education administration.) She exercises on an elliptical trainer, lifts weights and swims. Daily Mass is at 8.

By 8:30, she is usually in her office, overseeing two other full-time advisers and two volunteers who help her track Xavier’s 271 athletes in 17 sports.

Fleming has the ear of faculty members and cellphone numbers for the athletes. On occasion, athletes will find her knocking on their doors or waiting outside for their return.

“She’ll wait in a blizzard if she has to,” said the sophomore guard Terrell Holloway, who received a visit from Fleming when he fell behind in reading during summer school. “Whenever she wants us, she knows where to find us.”

When potential athletes go to Xavier for recruiting visits, Fleming is one of the first people they meet. Xavier players said that they rarely met academic advisers when they visited other programs.

“Coaches call me and say, ‘Look, this person is really a good player,’ ” Fleming said. “ ‘But this person has not done well academically.’ And my first question is why.”

Her belief is that if students are focused enough to harness their talent into becoming Division I athletes, they certainly have the capacity to learn. But people learn differently.

“There are different channels to learning,” she said. “And I see my job as finding the best possible one.”

Xavier’s freshman athletes are required to attend 10 hours of supervised study hall each week, two hours per night. That continues unless grade point averages are above 3.0. Tutors are brought in for specialized help.

“There’s such a respect level because she’s been the academic adviser for Brian Grant and James Posey and David West,” said Mack, naming Xavier basketball players who completed degrees and went on to the N.B.A. “So when a freshman comes into our program, it’s not like we just hired her last week.”

In 1991, Pete Gillen, the coach at the time, named Fleming the team’s most valuable player. In 2000, she was inducted into Xavier’s athletic hall of fame.

Yet, most have never seen her shoot a basketball — which she did in high school in Cincinnati and college at Mount St. Joseph, when she was not playing on field hockey teams.

“If I wanted to shoot today, I’d have to spend a lot more time in the weight room strengthening my arms and chest,” Fleming said.

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