As the Texas Longhorns recently warmed up for their home contest against North Texas, former defensive workhorse Royal Ivey was in the Cooley Pavilion weight room cooling down.
Almost eight years removed from his UT playing days, Ivey’s work ethic hasn’t changed. His focus, though, is narrower and more exact these days. Ivey, for example, is gearing up for the start of this year’s truncated NBA season, and he spent his entire afternoon training session working to improve just one foot.
“I’m not getting any younger, you know,” Ivey says.
Notoriety has never been Ivey’s motivation. With hard work and humility, he chases honor, knowing still that the reward comes in stages known as life’s journey. Ivey will embrace his latest marker and one day display it prominently in his home.
On Saturday, Ivey graduated from The University of Texas. His diploma says he earned his degree in Applied Learning & Development.
“My mom would always say, ‘I didn’t send you to school to be in the NBA.’ That was just icing on the cake,” says Ivey, now a seven-year NBA veteran. “My ultimate goal was to come to college, get a free education, graduate and then move on. I turned it into something else.
“Getting my degree—it’s another accomplishment that I have, and it will make my mom happy.”
Ivey’s mother, Jennifer, began her career as a New York City art teacher in 1972. She later received a master’s degree in special education and has spent most of her nearly 40 years in school hallways as a staff developer, teaching new teachers how to manage their classrooms.
In this case of her son, Jennifer Ivey knew earning his degree wasn’t a matter of if, but when. “I told him, ‘You can be a role model. You have to be a role model. Graduate.’” Jennifer said.
Since leaving for the NBA after the 2004 season, Ivey would return to the Forty Acres during late summer sessions and take classes. He never wavered from the goal, but finding time to complete his requirements was difficult with a professional schedule.
Ivey’s maturity of spirit guided him to use this fall’s NBA lockout to take nine semester hours and finally earn his degree. Some current men’s basketball players were in Ivey’s classes, and he appreciated the opportunity to teach them commitment through example, because every class session, Ivey was there, front and center, backpack full and mind open.
As Randa Ryan, senior associate athletics director for student services tells it, Ivey has a “real excitement for learning.”
“I wasn’t discouraged. You chip away, little by little. That’s what my mom told me to do,” Ivey says. “Now, we’re starting back up (with the NBA season) just as I’m graduating. God works in mysterious ways.”
As a Longhorn, Ivey earned his reputation between the lines. He set the all-time record for career games started and was a two-time Big 12 Conference Defensive team selection. Under strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright, he transformed his wiry 6-foot-4 frame into a chiseled tower of NBA-worthy brawn.
During this fall semester in Austin, Ivey naturally found his way back to the practice gym, and worked with the Longhorns as a student assistant coach. His proud work ethic and humble nature is still infectious to a team, and now, with a few more years of wisdom, Ivey is growing into a leader.
“Being around these guys, and being here, has been a blessing for me, because now I know what I want to do after basketball,” Ivey says. “I’ve got a passion for this, coaching. I think it’s my calling. It’s just compatible to my nature.”
Teaching is certainly in his bloodline. Ivey’s mother and both grandmothers were teachers, so he’s been exposed to classrooms and teaching principles all his life. Through community service outreach at UT, he also learned how those philosophies fit into today’s culture.
Ivey’s next stated dream is to one day open a charter school in Austin. And after once seeing Ivey as a bloom of basketball potential, UT head coach Rick Barnes looks at his former pupil and sees more still.
“My gut feeling, if you ask me today, is that he’ll end up as a coach, as an educator. His character makes him a really special person,” Barnes says. “He exemplifies everything that we want in our program. We’ve had guys who were certainly more highly recruited than Royal. We’ve had players who were more talented. But I’m not sure that we’ve had a player that has given as much to this program as Royal.
“From the day he walked in, he really established himself.”
This article first ran on Texassports.com. Photo courtesy UT Athletics.