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Mike Lopresti | | February 8, 2019

Spend a whirlwind few days with Paul Rowley, who juggles DI hoops and law school

Paul Rowley juggles law school and hoops at William and Mary

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — There are nearly 5,000 men’s Division I basketball players in this country. Only one of them is in law school. And here he is now, for his Monday morning class.
Paul Rowley’s week will start at 8:30 a.m., in room 127 with trusts and estates. He’s at the law school building a bit early, a tall and talkative guy in a black William & Mary sweatshirt and a gray backpack, walking in the front door past the statues of John Marshall (a William & Mary alum who was the fourth chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court) and George Wythe (a William & Mary chancellor who signed the Declaration of Independence).
Rowley’s bio is a striking intersection of academics and athletics. The three-star prep recruit who was also third in his class, and even higher — second! — in his high school chess club. The outside shooting threat at William & Mary — he once buried three 3-pointers against Duke, right there in front of Mike Krzyzewski and the Cameron Crazies — who also graduated magna cum laude in three years with a double major in finance and computer science.

And how many college basketball rosters have you seen that list a player’s class, not as a Sr. or a Jr. or a Soph., but an L-2? As in second-year law student? A 22-year-old master in time management who can say he’s sixth on his team with a 5.5 scoring average, and 11th in a law school class of 180, with a 3.7 grade point average?

USA Today Sports Images Paul Rowley W&M

“I don’t do anything that other people don’t do,” he would say about all that. “I just do a couple of things.”

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What’s aw, shucks in legal language, anyway? But others weigh in with a tad more vigor.
The dean of the law school, for instance. “It’s just unbelievable, what he has managed,” Davison M. Douglas says.
Or the basketball coach. “I think it’s remarkable. I don’t think that’s an understatement,” Tony Shaver mentions.
A dean in his law school office. A coach five minutes away at the arena. The north and south poles of Paul Rowley’s world.  Before Monday starts, maybe we should review how he spent his weekend.
Friday night . . . four hours of reading case papers in the law library after a quick dinner. He has been known on a Friday night to drop his friends off at the pubs, head for the library, then be back to pick them up after midnight. (Note to sports information office: Add designated driver to his resume.)
Saturday . . . work on a paper in the morning, pre-game shoot-around and ice bath, read some material on his laptop in the locker room, come off the bench to hit a couple of 3-pointers in William & Mary’s victory over Delaware, have dinner with his parents, then his one social night out.
Sunday . . . at the law library early, and stay late. Did someone mention the Super Bowl? “The guys are watching and I’d love to do it,” he says of his friends. “But I hung out last night. I have a rule for myself, I try to save one night to be social a week. But I don’t really have the capacity for two.”
Tired yet? Oh, it’ll get busier.

A guy has to be ready for anything — be it Hofstra’s defense or his professors’ questions, which tend to often come without warning. “Law school’s all about being cold-called,” he says.
So let’s tag along for two days with William & Mary’s L-2/team captain.
8:30 a.m. Nearly every seat is taken in Professor Chason’s large class on trusts and estates. Textbooks out, laptops on. And 75 minutes of discussion on testamentary intent and holographic wills. Whatever they are. Questions to the students, always more questions — like the next rain drop you know is coming, you just don’t know which one hits you in the eye.
“I guess there’s definitely a small moment of panic when you hear your name," Rowley says. "But Professor Chason, he’s not looking to throw you any hardballs. Some professors are a little more aggressive and don’t mind seeing you trip up. But I like to talk.
“I very seldom show up in class unprepared. Yesterday, I read all my readings for the whole week. That way during the school week, I can just review my notes for the day.”

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But isn’t all this — you know — hard?
“The short answer is — I know what I’m interested in. I’m interested in playing basketball, I’m interested in doing at least decently well in this building, and I manage my time accordingly.
“Last year I was so unsure. It was a gamble. Nobody knew what was going to happen. The basketball team didn’t know if I was going to just burn out, if I was going to find time to get in the gym. Here, they believed in me but they didn’t know.
“Sometimes it wears on me. There are bad days in school, there are bad days in sports. Hopefully the two don’t ever overlap. But at the end of the day, if you ask anybody, I think they’ll tell you I’m pretty happy.”
Then he’s off to the library for some reading before the next class. We can go to the dean’s office.

11 a.m. — Davison M. Douglas is a former rower, so he understands athletics.
“It is a tremendous advantage, I think, for a law student to have participated in interscholastic athletics. You learn resilience, you learn teamwork, you learn to deal with unexpected adversity. At least once a week I reflect on some of the things I learned.”
But to do both at the same time? Well, about that . . .
“I sat down with him when he first came over and said he wanted to do this. And I was concerned that he would hurt himself on the law school side of things. We had a candid conversation. At the end of the day, he didn’t have to prove himself to me. He was a very strong student. I decided early on I wasn’t going to say `you cannot do this.’ Rather, I decided what I would say is, `let me point out the pitfalls, but the decision is yours.’
“He said, `I think I can pull this off.’ And he has pulled it off.  For me, it’s not just that it’s one law student (who’s a Division I player). That it’s one law student who’s an exceptionally good law student.”

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11:30 a.m. — Trademark law with Professor Heymann.  Something about distinctiveness and functionality, and why Hershey's was allowed to trademark its chocolate bar with all the rectangles. As part of the session, the professor plays a tape of a lawyer making an oral argument. Why that’s John Roberts, the current chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Later, Professor Heymann, once a winner of a teaching award named after Thomas Jefferson — another alum here — describes the tall basketball player sitting in the middle of the top row of her class.
“He’s been prepared, thoughtful and engaged with the material. He sees both the details and the big picture. It’s often been said that if you want something done, you should ask a busy person to do it, and maybe this is the key to Paul’s success. He simply has to be organized to ensure that nothing slips through the cracks.
“If you had asked me a few years ago whether an active Division I athlete could also be a full-time law student, I’d probably have had some concerns. But If I had met Paul before you asked me that question, I wouldn’t have been too worried.”
1 p.m. — Rowley grabs a quick lunch, then it’ll be off to the arena to inhabit his other universe.
“Quite frankly, I find basketball to be a pretty big relief,” he says. “It’s the easy part of the hard days. Everybody has those days where you’re grumpy and you don’t want to be there. Those days you talk yourself into it, I guess. Especially as kind of the self-proclaimed glue guy and energy guy. That’s my job.”
He’s never been the most talented athlete. “My whole career has been I’m coachable, I’m tall, and I can shoot.” But he’s a locker room leader, sharing stories of past William & Mary seasons with younger players who probably only have a vague idea of what his world is like.
“I always wonder, what stories are they going to tell about me? Basketball’s the overlap. There’s a lot of guys in that locker room that I have maybe music and basketball and zero other things in common with.”
He has had his own moments for the Tribe. Nov. 23, 2016, for instance. Just another non-conference victory at home for Duke — it ended 88-67 — but not for him. He hit a 3-pointer, then another, then another. His parents heard the TV announcer say these unforgettable words. Unforgettable for one family, anyway. Rowley is rolling!

He finished with nine points, and carries this thought as a souvenir from the night: “That Coach K at one point in his life said, `Somebody guard that f-ing Rowley kid.’”
The memory is still sweet, “but I don’t want that to be the peak. I want the peak to be this March.”
It has not been the easiest season, for William & Mary, or him. One of the youngest teams in the nation, the Tribe is 9-14 after a long series of winning seasons under Shaver. Rowley has missed several games, first with a hernia, then a concussion. His reliable shooting touch has wandered. He says now that he is healthy, and is convinced it will return. It’ll just take some extra work, but he’s used to that.

2 p.m. — Rowley will be in the arena for more than five hours — film session, treatment, extra shooting, practice, weight lifting. That’s him, No. 22, a real chatterbox in practice.
Shaver takes a few moments to reflect on the journey of his team captain.
“My initial reaction was, bad idea. It can’t be done well in both arenas. The more we talked about it, and I felt strongly about it in the end, I think Paul Rowley is the only guy I know who can do it. He’s very bright, he’s incredibly well-organized. And he’s full of energy. I don’t see Paul as a guy sitting around playing games in the computer.

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“As a coach I wanted to make sure he was still committed to basketball, and he understood I’m all for the law school, but basketball had to remain a priority for him, and I think it has. All of our hopes are, this next month will be his best yet. He’s important to us. When he plays at the level we know he’s capable of, we go from here to here,” says Shaver, raising his hand higher.
“This place is pretty unique and pretty special. I’m not sure what he’s doing would be allowed to happen in most places, much less to do it well.
And all those injuries? “Sometimes I wonder, has it just been too stressful, too time-consuming, not enough rest? Maybe that creates injuries. I don’t know if that’s true.”
7 p.m. — Practice did not go well. “Low energy. I felt like I had to beg the guys to play harder,” Rowley says. He’s headed back to the library after dinner. There's a 50-page paper for the Law Review due soon. It is snarling at him like a bear.
“I’ll try to tell myself I can go home in a couple of hours and get up tomorrow morning and finish it before class. Let’s see if I can talk myself into it.”
Tuesday, 9:30 a.m. — He couldn’t. He was in the library past midnight, was back at it again this morning. Still more to be done, and the day’s schedule is crammed. “Normally if I schedule things perfectly, I leave enough time for eight hours of sleep.”
But not this week. And now, Economic Analysis of Law with Professor Meese. Rowley is in the middle of the top row again. “Creature of habit,” he says.
Today’s topics of discussion are property rights, positive externality . . . and bees. Lots of talk about bees, and if they are a pure or unpure public good, or just what. To get through all that, the professor needs 75 minutes and one bottle of Coke.

Afterward, Rowley talks about grading in law school, how it’s done on a hard curve, so every student is competing against one another. You think basketball during conference play can get cut-throat? The friendly coed next to you is after your A. There are stories from other schools of students pulling pages out of one another’s textbooks to get an edge.
“Four weeks before exams, things are little different,” Rowley says. “But a lot of what I like about William & Mary is that it’s a pretty relaxed place.”
Still, it’s a good sign if others are struggling a bit. Loosens up the curve. “The hardest class,” he says, “is where the people next to you all know what they’re doing.”
The next class is very soon, not that the time in between can’t be useful. “Sometimes when I have 15 minutes between classes, I’ll go in the library, set my alarm for 12 minutes and close my eyes.”
11:30 a.m. — Bankruptcy Survey with Professor Oman.
The session starts with a hypothetical of Tom Cruse filing for a chapter 7 bankruptcy. Plain enough. But then the discussion turns to section 365, subsection c or e. Or was it f? For the outsider, it's hopeless. Absolutely hopeless.
1 p.m. — Over lunch, Rowley ponders the road ahead. He’ll have one more year of law school, and might help with the basketball team. He’ll have to do something to fill the suddenly less frenzied hours. “I have two speeds, 100 miles-an-hour and zero. Zero makes me very uncomfortable.”
He has a summer job lined up with a big Washington D.C. firm — Covington and Burling — that works with sports litigation and transactions. He comes from Purcellville, a small Virginia town not far from Washington. Sports law might be where his future lies. For now, he wants to finish the multi-tasking tour de force that some doubted anyone could take. So close now to the end, what does it mean?
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get any ego out of it. It does feel good to set difficult goals and achieve them. I’ve seen a lot of people in this profession, in sports, in law, work themselves miserable, because there’s always a bigger carrot. For me I think it’s a question of making sure I’m enjoying it.

“It’s maybe a little me holding onto childhood. I’m not sure why I act the way I act sometimes. I like to act like I’m all about having fun and taking it easy. The reality is I spend Friday nights at the library. But I don’t think I’ll ever work myself unhappy.
“The story kind of wrote itself along the way. There was never this master plan.”
He has sacrificed so much to keep wearing that uniform. What will it be like, the day he has to take it off for the last time?
“I try not to think about that part yet. Basketball has been absolutely fantastic for my life. The confidence I got at a young age having a purpose and a passion and something to identify with, all that’s priceless. At the end of the day, I throw a ball in a hoop from 20 to 25 feet and people get excited about it, they cheer for me, and they pay for me to go to school. In the most simple terms, that’s awesome.”

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5 p.m. — Practice is over, as the Tribe prepares to leave the next morning for a rugged weekend — to Colonial leaders Northeastern and Hofstra.
7:20 p.m. — Rowley is almost late for his night class. Fell asleep at his apartment, after his girlfriend cooked dinner. He anticipates a long night at the library, getting that Law Review paper done. Hence, a bag of candy and Red Bull to drink. “Desperate times, desperate measures," he says.
7:30 p.m. — Advanced writing and practice for criminal law with Professor Green. A motion for joinder of multiple charges in a child pornography case is due next week.
When the class gets out, most students head for the parking lot. Rowley heads for the library. He might be there until midnight, or probably longer. That paper won’t go away. And he'll be gone a few days. The team leaves at 10 o’clock the next morning, but never mind sleeping in. He has an 8:30 class, and of course, wouldn't miss it. “I’m going to not go?” he says, slightly mystified at the question.
Two things he said come to mind, watching him head for the library, where his night will slip away.
“This is the path I chose.”
And . . .
“I think I’m pretty good at being happy.”
Outside in the darkness, two statues of William & Mary legends — Marshall and Wythe — stand guard by the law school. They're looking in the general direction of the basketball arena.

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