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Vautour: Two decades later, Marcus Camby proud to be getting his UMass degree

  • Marcus Camby, left, greets Lou Roe during the Derek Kellogg Basketball Camp last summer at the UMass Basketball Champions Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Former UMass basketball player Marcus Camby, center, is shown last summer with then UMass head coach Derek Kellogg, left, and assisant coach Andy Allison during the Derek Kellogg Basketball Camp at the UMass Basketball Champions Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Marcus Camby meets a group of fans during the Derek Kellogg Basketball Camp, last summer at the UMass Basketball Champions Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Marcus Camby fields questions from a group of children during the Derek Kellogg Basketball Camp, last summer at the UMass Basketball Champions Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Marcus Camby fields questions from a group of children during the Derek Kellogg Basketball Camp, last summer at the UMass Basketball Champions Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dezmen Martinez, 13, of Chicopee, left, poses for a portrait with former UMass basketball player Marcus Camby during a men’s basketball game against UMass Lowell, Nov. 11 at the Mullins Center. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



@MattVautourDHG
Thursday, May 11, 2017

Marcus Camby didn’t tell anyone. Not his mother, his sisters or his daughters. Not even his wife.

For the last two years, the 43-year-old former Minuteman basketball star has been quietly taking classes online to complete his UMass degree. On Friday, 24 years after he started college, the 6-foot-11 former NBA center will be the tall head under the tasseled cap bobbing above the sea of soon-to-be alumni on the McGuirk Stadium field.

While his path to getting there will be different than anyone else among the thousands at commencement, Camby was eager to officially be a college graduate.

“It’s been over 20 years in the making. I’m definitely excited about it,” he said Thursday morning.

Completing his degree was always part of the plan. Lots of players who leave school early pledge their intentions to someday finish college. Most of them probably mean it, too. But professional and family commitments sap their time, and wealth saps their motivation. Camby played 17 years in the NBA and earned over $100 million in salary. He’s interested in coaching at some point, but successful investing in barber shops, landscaping and real estate companies, and his own fiscal maturity has left the Hartford, Connecticut, native comfortable financially for life after basketball.

But getting his degree still meant something to him and Camby always planned to finish. Early in his playing career online classes were still in its infancy, while later he was balancing the time commitment of being both a player and a father.

When he retired he wanted to keep the resumption of his academic pursuit a secret, mostly to surprise his mother, whom he promised the degree to before his first class at UMass. From his Houston home, he finished a 20-page paper to complete an independent study last month and got official notice from the school that he’d be in the graduating class of 2017. He mailed his mother Janice, who still lives in Connecticut, an invitation to attend.

“I sent the first one to my mom,” said Camby, who told his sisters so they could be with his mother when the invitation arrived. “My sister said she broke out in tears. She was so excited and so happy. She’s all into it. That’s all I can really ask for, especially on Mother’s Day weekend. My mom is probably more excited than I am.”

Invitation No. 2 was mailed to Lexington, Kentucky. John Calipari, his coach at UMass, is making the trip north to be at the event.

“It meant a lot to him. He’s excited. He said he wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Camby said. “We share a lifelong bond and I wanted him to be part of it.”

Their bond was on public display last month as Camby was prominently featured in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary on Calipari. “One and Not Done” discussed the controversy at the end of Camby’s UMass tenure where he took money from an agent. Camby thought the portrayal was fair.

“It had to cover tough topics, things that happened over 20 years ago that I had to relive. I don’t have a problem doing that,” he said. “Hopefully up-and-coming athletes can learn from my mistakes and my experiences.”

He’s hoping those same up-and-comers take something from what he’s doing this weekend, too.

“I always wanted to get my degree. I was just extremely lucky and fortunate to be able to go to the NBA,” said Camby, who thanked academic advisor Jamal Watson for helping him navigate the online path. “But it was something I know my mom wanted me to accomplish ever since I was a toddler. It was for her and for my kids. I can’t preach going to school and education stuff if I don’t have my degree. Being a parent, I’ve always stressed education. Now my kids can see their dad as a college graduate. My oldest will be in high school next year. I want her to go to UMass.”

Camby has remained on good terms with both the school and the basketball program, and was looking forward to meeting new coach Matt McCall and seeing the plaque marking the newly christened “Marcus Camby video room” inside the program’s practice facility not far from where his retired No. 21 hangs in the Mullins Center.

But this weekend isn’t about basketball. He’s content to be one of many in traditional graduation garb with 25 friends and family looking on. His cap and gown (sized for people 6-foot-9 to 6-foot-11) arrived last week.

“It’s pretty big,” he said laughing. “But it looks good on me.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage