Blount: Player, coach, businessman ... graduate

May 27, 2008

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     Corie Blount didn't finish high school. After his senior year of basketball was complete, he had no desire to earn his high school degree. This June, though, Blount -- 15 years after playing his final game at UC -- will earn his college diploma.




It's been a long trip for Blount. Journeys in and around the Los Angeles gang scene, a three-year stay at Santa Ana (Calif.) College after earning his GED, a Final Four appearance at UC, 11 years in the NBA, and a three-month span coaching the Bearcats.


All of it adds up to a 39-year-old with a multitude of business ideas and goals. And pretty soon, a degree in criminal justice from the university he says changed his life.


"My wife graduated from the University of Cincinnati, and she was like, `You need to go back. You're going to tell your kids that they're going to have to go to school, and you speak at these camps and you're stressing education. You don't even have your degree,'" Blount said. "She had a point. I had a lot of people pushing on me.


"It really hit me when I started doing my basketball camps in my hometown when I was in the NBA. When I saw the kids getting in trouble, and you hear people saying you need to get your degree. But you don't really feel it until you look at the kids who are out there and how the community is going now. There's got to be a better way. Education is the key."


It seems that's the motto for Blount these days.


Aside from co-owning The Garage, a sports bar and grill in Cincinnati, and involving himself in a real estate venture in California, his next project is inspired by education.


Along with partner Ron Watson -- a friend of his since Blount's rookie year playing for the Chicago Bulls -- they are in the process of introducing a clothing line called "Had To," which celebrates graduating from the college you attend.


"I went and looked at all the clothing lines, and there's no clothing line geared toward graduates," Blount said. "Nothing says education. We came up with this concept. It's just to promote graduation. For those like me, who want to come back or have some kind of mission of getting it done, this is a chance to represent that. I plan on taking this to every Division I school, every D-II school, even high schools. I'm planning on trying to build a brand with this."


Blount cites brands like and1 and Under Armour, which are popular but don't have an underlying message to those who wear their clothes. He wants this brand to mean something -- to promote the idea of education and graduation.


For a guy who didn't complete high school, the last few years have been quite a paradigm shift. Even when he was playing in the NBA -- Blount suited up for a total of seven teams -- education wasn't in the forefront of his mind.


Although he only needed 23 credits to earn a degree at UC, he never thought hard about re-enrolling.


"It wasn't really something I always thought about, because I was living that NBA life at the time," said Blount, who, after his NBA career was complete, was hired as an interim assistant coach for the latter portion of the 2005-06 Bearcats season. "But it hit me once I got finished and I got a chance to coach with those kids that year. With my influence, I thought it was something I could achieve. I knew in order for me to do it right, I'd have to go back and get my degree. My wife was on me; coach (Bob Huggins) has always been on me. They stayed on me, so I just said, `You know what? I'm not going to do anything else but go to school.' And I did it."


And once he finished his report on the impact of the Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Ohio for his state history class, the last one of his collegiate academic career, Blount hardly could contain himself.


"I never cried before in my life -- not when I won a state championship, when I got married, when I got drafted," Blount said. "I'm just not that type. But this meant so much -- because of the importance of it -- that I just broke down."


The next step for Blount, aside from the Had To clothing line he's excited about, is finding a way into college coaching.


Earning a degree, then, was vital to taking that first step.


Already, Blount has begun immersing himself in the college coaching culture. During the weekend of the Final Four, he traveled to San Antonio to visit perhaps the biggest basketball coaching job fair of the year. He met up with Huggins, former UC and current Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, Kansas State coach Frank Martin and current Bearcats coach Mick Cronin.


A bachelor's degree only will help.


"Here's a guy who was 11 years in the NBA and came back and finishes his degree, and it is never going to show up on a statistic," Huggins said last month. "But we know, and I think that's what's important. He wants to coach. He will be able to go on and coach."


Blount says he knows where he wants to begin his coaching career -- and he doesn't want to move away from his adopted city to do it.


"I really want to get back here -- this is my city as far as basketball," Blount said. "I wouldn't rather coach anywhere else. I don't want to work anywhere else. If I had an option, I'd rather it be at the university. I owe everything I have to basketball, and I also owe it to the University of Cincinnati. It gave me a chance to display my talents, so I could make it to the NBA. I owe my gratitude to the university."


He says this while sitting in his sports bar and sporting a West Virginia sweatsuit. He loves his university but he also loves the man who coached him there. So, if Huggins is coaching at West Virginia, Blount will honor him by wearing Mountaineers gear.


Still, he doesn't find it difficult to maintain a balance between his love of UC and his love of Huggins.


"It's not hard for me," Blount said. "My head is with Huggs, but my heart is with UC. I owe everything to UC, but I came because of Huggs."


In fact, Blount says, he was lucky to escape his hometown of Monrovia, Calif., near Los Angeles. He and his siblings were raised by their great grandmother -- Blount's mother sporadically remained in his life then, and he still keeps in contact with her today -- but he had to live in a part of the city in which gang activity could swallow you alive and leave you for dead.


"I was involved with it," said Blount, whose neighborhood was affiliated with the Crips. "But I was blessed, that's all I can say. When it was time to make a decision to do something, sometimes I got out of it by the hair of my chin. Sometimes I was able to avoid a lot of it. I've been shot at. I did some of the stuff everybody else did. It just hit me. When I had the opportunity to go to school, there was no looking back for me."


Blount did that by playing at Santa Ana College and UC before the Bulls drafted him in the first round of the 1993 NBA Draft.


Now, Blount wants to give back by imparting his knowledge on college players who need his help. He realized how much he enjoyed that process in 2005-06. Even if he wasn't quite sure that he wanted to take the job.


"At first, I didn't want to do it," Blount said. "You know, I'm a Huggs guy and I was upset like everybody else. But he told me, `Corie, I want you to do this for me. I want you to do it for my kids and my guys who are still there. I know you can still help them.' And he said if you want to get into coaching, this will let you know if you want do it."


So, Blount sat down with Kennedy, the interim coach that season, and Kennedy told him how much he could fit in and how much the players on the squad would respect him. Blount remembers attending the Memphis game -- a contest the Bearcats lost 91-81 -- and ultimately decided to take over the coaching spot vacated by Keith LeGree.


"After the game, I said that I didn't see a bad team," Blount said. "I just saw a team that wasn't together yet. I talked to A.K. The next day, I saw all the old players and said I wanted them to come talk to these kids. I called Anthony Buford, Terry Nelson, Tarrance Gibson, and we told them what it meant to be a Bearcat. It hit hard with them. I guess, coming from us, it made a difference."


Now, Blount is back to where he was 15 years ago. Except he's older, has five kids and has banked a little more money. But he's also about to receive his college degree. He'll be the first in his family to earn that distinction.


"It speaks a lot about Corie's character and what he's all about as a person," said Cronin, who counts Blount as a close friend. "Just to put a backpack on and walk around campus as a retired 11-year NBA player and set an example -- not only for his own children but for our players, who he has spoken to about academics. Quite frankly, he's conveyed to them that he wishes he would have finished when he was at Cincinnati the first time. It speaks a lot to the depth of his character. He's just a great role model."