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Friday, May 13, 2022
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Around the Nation – D3hoops

Dan Kenny is a current Division III men’s basketball player at John Jay, and also a volunteer firefighter.
Provided photo

By Ryan Scott

A few weeks ago, in this space, we outlined a list of the 10 best pro playing careers of former Division III basketball athletes. As we all know, most of our students will go pro in something other than sports, so it seems only fitting that we highlight a few of those as well. There’s no way we would try to rank these careers, but it’s important to highlight where some of the players we’re watching on the court today, might be in five or ten or fifteen years.

I’ve been careful to say “playing” career and not “basketball” career, because there are a lot of ways to be involved with basketball professionally away from the hardwood. DePauw grad, Austin Brown, parlayed a summer internship into now being co-head of the basketball division at CAA and one of the most influential agents in the NBA, overseeing relationships with clients such as Donovan Mitchell and Zion Williamson.

Austin Brown, sports agent
provided photo

“We are very collaborative,” says Brown. “Everyone is a client of the agency and we all have different relationships and connections. I help in the management of clients, as well as a group of several agents, executives, and marketing services.

“I used to go to Chicago Bulls games and dream of just being a ballboy; it’s sort of surreal to think basketball has taken me this far. I did not get to be a professional basketball player, but I got to the NBA by a different route. ”

Brown played in two NCAA Tournaments with DePauw and sees a lot of parallels between that experience and what he now does for a living.

“My senior year we won the conference championship on a last-second shot and lost our first (NCAA) Tournament game on a last second shot. Those are the kinds of ebbs and flows that happen in the business of basketball, too. When you’re up against a deadline or trying to put the pieces of a puzzle together, you rely on those competitive juices you learned as a player. ”

After college, Brown headed to New York and a job in finance, assuming he’d follow in his father’s footsteps. He applied to law school to further those skills, but an internship at a sports agency opened his eyes to other opportunities.

“It just seemed like something I could do, that I would be good at,” says Brown, who worked with Washington & Lee law school to arrange an independent study, which saw him commuting for his final year while getting his foot in the door at an agency.

“Basketball has given me so much,” notes Brown, “especially the understanding that comes from playing Division III basketball – hard work, playing for the right reasons, purity of purpose.”

For those current athletes looking for advice on breaking into the business, Brown says: “Build your overall skill set as a professional. Take courses that lend themselves to critical thinking, communication, problem solving – those are the skills you need in any job, but especially as an agent. ”

Those skills pay dividends in any profession, whether basketball-related or not.

For John Grotberg, life on and off the court has been about being in the right place at the right time. A high level prospect out of Michigan, an injury before his senior year of high school limited the options for Grotberg to play in college. As a dead-eye shooter with an eye towards medicine, the combination of academic success and the famous Grinnell System landed him in Iowa.

“I wholeheartedly think my accomplishments should have an asterisk next to them,” says Grotberg of his all-division record 526 career 3-pointers. “There’s a reason the record I broke had been held by a Grinnell player. I was put into a position where I was given the opportunity to have the career statistics I had more so than someone playing conventional basketball. ”

Of course, conventional basketball looks more and more like Grinnell all the time, and between Grotberg and current head coach, Dave Arseneault Jr., the Pioneers of that era had a lot more talent and success than most iterations. If not for the Midwest Conference’s then-23 game regular season limit, Grotberg surely would be the only Division III men’s player to score 3,000 career points.

If it hadn’t been for that injury in high school, he might have been sitting behind Steph Curry on Davidson’s bench for most of his career. Instead, he had a brief stint playing overseas before returning to medical school.

John Grotberg, MD
provided photo

Grotberg graduated from Yale, did residency at Michigan, and recently moved to St. Louis. Louis, where he’s finishing up a Pulmonary Critical Care Fellowship through Wash U at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. He’s been working in the ICU, on the front lines of a global pandemic, in the exact specialty most needed by those suffering the worst of COVID.

Grotberg spent the early weeks of the pandemic apart from his wife and newborn daughter, until they had a handle on the dangers and precautions necessary to keep everyone safe.

He notes, “It’s been challenging, but also rewarding that we’re able to get very sick people healthy and back home with their families. I do not feel burnt out just yet, but with each surge we all get a little more fatigued. ”

Of the impact basketball had on the rest of his life, Grotberg is more reflective. “It was a conscious decision for me to step away from aggressively pursuing medicine to focus on basketball. I got started on my medical career later than I would have otherwise.

“I do not think I would have changed anything. It was such an amazing experience. The Division III basketball community is such a great community. It’s added to my career, my social life – I think about it on a daily basis. ”

We are proud to claim him, but also, fair warning to any St. Louis area pickup games: do not leave John Grotberg open from outside!

Division III fans should also be proud of the work being done by Jaimie McFarlin, the 2010 NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, who led WashU to its fifth women’s basketball national title. She’s currently working in the White House Counsel’s office, after stints with the Biden-Harris transition team, and a couple of law firms. She, too, has a professional story that mirrors one from her playing career – in this case, bad news leads to something good.

“I was working on a startup women’s apparel company, with some friends, when the pandemic happened,” she says. “When everyone is staying home, wearing yoga pants, it’s not the best time to be selling clothes. A former colleague brought me onto the transition team. This is not something I planned, but it’s a great honor. ”

McFarlin suffered an ACL injury early in her junior season – right at the cut-off for a medical redshirt – which allowed her a fifth year. At the time, though, she was not enjoying the experience. Beyond the injury, her brother deployed to Iraq around the same time. “It was a tough year,” she says.

But the injury occurred the day after McFarlin had applied to WashU’s 3 + 2 MBA program, which required an extra year on campus anyway – a fifth year that turned into a championship season.

“The team got better without me,” says McFarlin, who is WashU’s career rebounding leader. “A lot of people had to step up and we were that much better when I came back.”

She adds: “I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience being a college athlete. The number of decisions you make under pressure – if you thrive in it, you can thrive anywhere: business, law, or the White House. When you’ve hit a pressure free throw in a big moment, writing an important paragraph just isn’t that difficult. ”

After a year playing professionally in Denmark, Harvard Law School came calling – then a career in mostly white collar criminal defense and investigations.

“I worked in some high profile, front page worthy situations,” notes McFarlin. “It was demanding work, but it was not rudimentary. The relationships I made were so valuable. You care about your client, but you really care about the people you work with – it reminds me of basketball. ”

Jaimie McFarlin, left, in front of the Old Executive Office Building in Washington, DC
provided photo

McFarlin isn’t sure what the next step in her journey might be, but she’s not taking for granted the opportunity she got right in front of her. “It’s absolutely extraordinary and humbling. The people I work with are the best and the brightest and they are so passionate about helping people. There’s a direct line to the work that’s done in the White House and how you touch people’s lives every day. ”

Speaking of touching lives every day, Division III student athletes do not always have to wait for their playing careers to be over to engage with their passions and career pursuits. One, in particular, has stood out this year.

For many children, dreams of being a firefighter end us as mere dreams, but for John Jay’s Dan Kenny it’s always just been part of the plan. “I had my eyes on the prize the whole time,” says the sophomore forward, who’s averaging 10 points and eight rebounds per game this season. “When I was 12 years old, I saw an ad in the newspaper for a youth academy, for a week during spring break from school. We got the basics down of firefighting. That got me connected to the fire service in my area and then when you’re 16 you can join the fire service in Rockland County. ”

Roughly two thirds of all fire departments across the US are volunteers, meaning they are well-trained neighbors, helping protect the people of their community. Kenny is majoring in fire and emergency services and plans to pursue a full-time position, hopefully with the New York Fire Department, upon graduation.

He lived in the dorms freshman year, but with the irregularities of COVID, he’s been commuting from home this season, meaning Kenny may be working a fire in the morning and boxing out in the paint that night. Many around the John Jay team were largely unaware of Kenny’s unique double life. That changed when his coach, Ryan Hyland, tweeted out a recognition earlier this year.

“It’s cool that people are recognizing it,” says Kenny. “But I do not want to get credit. It’s just something I like to do. ”

Of course, fighting fires is an intense and dangerous job. Last spring, Rockland County lost fireman Jared Lloyd in the line of duty. “He was making multiple rescues in a nursing home fire, when he became trapped and the building collapsed,” remembers Kenny. “That was a difficult time for all of us, but in the firefighting community there is always someone there to talk through it and help you in difficult times.”

He notes that camaraderie is very similar to basketball, where people have to come together as a team and support and trust one another. “Basketball helps a lot with the firefighting – the cardio is the big thing,” but Kenny also notes that his experience with firefighting makes it easier to talk to his basketball teammates and build the kinds of relationships needed to succeed.

It’s easy to see how this small sample of the many ways our players succeed in many walks of life mirror the ethos of Division III basketball: that the wins and losses and practices and road trips are all means to a greater end.

Division III programs are built around shaping and forming people who possess the skills to make an impact on the world around them. It’s not a narrow focus, nor one taken lightly. It’s stories like these – and so many others – which underscore the fundamental value of what’s done on the court.

Thanks to Chris Mitchell, Bill Wagner, and Dave Arseneault Jr., for their help in securing interviews with these Division III alumni.

[Click here to read full column]

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