North Charleston, S.C. — Paul Rowley rolled off a screen at William & Mary's pre-CAA Tournament practice on Saturday afternoon at North Charleston Coliseum. The redshirt junior forward popped out beyond the arc, corralled a pass, set his feet and launched. He shrunk his 6-foot-8 into a crouched position as the shot flew toward the bucket.
Use the promo code HeroSports to get your 50% Bonus
Swish. Rowley rises and unleashes a mini Ric Flair "Wooooooo!"
He’s the most vocal and active player throughout practice, bouncing around the floor like a toddler on a sugar high, clapping hands, encouraging teammates and self-critiquing himself. Each of his missed shots is followed with a “Rowley…Rowley…Rowley…” “up, up, up!” or indiscernible whispers.
How he has this much energy is beyond reason. Heck, how he, a first-year law student, has enough energy to tie his shoelaces is beyond reason.
Rowley (pronounced Row-ley) graduated in three years with a double major in computer science and finance. He “blames” good parenting for that.
“My dad said, ‘Paul if you take 15 credits, you can [graduate] in three years and start working on a master’s degree.’ I’m 17 and just got to college. Why would I want to get out of here faster? That doesn’t make any sense. He gave me a friendly nudge and said, ‘Just do it and you can always drop a class.’ “
He didn’t drop a class. In fact, he loaded up on summer courses and, after getting hurt as a freshman in 2014-15 and taking a redshirt, saw an opportunity for two years of graduate school. The native of Purcellville, Va., a small town 50 northwest of Washington, D.C., considered an MBA and was recruited for a master’s and PhD computer sciences program. Instead, Rowley, opted for “intellectual depth” and followed in the footsteps of his sister, Tess, a William & Mary law student during his first two years in Williamsburg.
Rowley’s college basketball career wasn’t exactly Row-ling, if you will. As a redshirt freshman, he had more DNPs (23) than minutes played (22). He never logged more than four minutes vs. a Division-I opponent and attempted eight total shots.
“ ‘Paul if you really want to do this, one, you need to keep your grades up, rock the LSAT,” he recalls of a conversation with his father, Sean, after his sophomore season. “And two, quite frankly, you better shoot the piss out of the ball this year. You need to play well. They're not going to make this work for a 13th man.’ “
Though Paul laughs and admits it almost certainly didn't come down to the program making it work for an end-of-the-bench player, he shot the piss out of the ball as a junior in 2016-17, hitting 49 percent of his three-point attempts for a team that won 10 conference games for a fourth straight season.
MORE: Ranking 10 Best CAA Teams of Last 10 Years
Rowley is believed to be one of just two D-I men’s basketball players currently in law school (Kevin Hempy, Pepperdine) and the first-ever for William & Mary basketball. And it wasn’t a simple submit-your-LSAT score, sign-here decision. He talked to anyone and everyone, including one of the few people on the planet who’s done it, Braeden Anderson.
Anderson, despite crushing his SATs and, from all accounts, being a darn smart kid, was a partial qualifier at Kansas in 2011. Four years later, at Seton Hall (after three years at Fresno State) he was the only law student in D-I men’s basketball.
“He gave me great advice about managing expectations,” Rowley says of Anderson, now a law clerk in New Jersey. “One of the biggest concerns was, ‘Paul, you're committing to two full-time jobs. You're not going to do either of them well.’
“I wouldn't prove a point if I was just barely getting through — if I was middle of my law school class and playing five minutes a game. That’s not what I set out to do. I set out to do both things well. He gave great advice about managing expectations and how to show both sides how they are my priority.”
“It was a long discussion, to be honest with you,” said Tribe head coach Tony Shaver. “Number one, we had to figure out whether it was possible. Paul wanted it to work out. Our staff wanted it to work out. And the law school was willing to help us, as well. We had a lot of people trying to make it work for Paul but it was a long conversation.
“As a coach, I also expressed some of my concerns about it. He’s on scholarship here as a basketball player and wanted to make sure he continued to give the proper time to his teammates here as a part of our group. And he certainly has done that.”
He’s done that — averaging 5.8 points and shooting 44 percent from deep as a team captain on a team chasing their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth — despite a hectic schedule filled with 16-hour days. On Tuesdays, for example, after classes from 8:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m., he goes directly to Kaplan Arena for tape and treatment before 1:30 p.m practice. Four hours of practice, lifting and film is followed by night class from 6-8 p.m. and late-night studying at the library. He doesn't bring books home and still gets eight hours of sleep each night.
“I know very clearly what my priorities are,” says Rowley, the CAA Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year. “You can call that time management or what you want. I know what I'm here to do. I know what I want to do. I know what I want to accomplish academically and on the court. I'm not here to piggyback on the basketball team and get an education. I know very clearly what's important to me and what matters.”
Yes, Paul, us normal folk call that time management.
MORE: Bethune-Cookman Coach on Basketball and Pregnancy
What else do you call it when a student-athlete makes a laptop easily accessible on a bus knowing he'll have eight minutes on the way to the airport? Or when he studies a contract law book for 10 minutes at 1 a.m. at airport baggage claim after a flight from Boston, where they lost a two-point game to Northeastern hours earlier?
Really, who does that? Is he the only one?
“Ah, yes,” answers Kris Sears, William & Mary’s sports information director who’s been with the program for 12 seasons. “To the level he does it, certainly. We’ve had guys care and study but not to this level.”
“I’m getting a little antsy,” a noticeably jittering Rowley says. “Today is the first day of spring break and I didn't do anything yesterday. I didn't study, outline, or anything. I’m uncomfortable.”
He laughs but it’s true, and he does a terrible job of hiding the discomfort. After barely 10 minutes of sitting down in a quiet corner of the media room, he’s clearly itching for more 40-foot heaves from the Jersey Mike’s logo at North Charleston Coliseum. Or maybe that contract law book. Anything.
Rowley has another year of eligibility but two more years of law school. After next season, he’s hoping to stick around the program in any capacity, repeatedly reiterating his love for the school, program and city, along with his coaches, teammates and friends. After that, ideally a large private-practice firm in Washington, D.C., Richmond or the Hampton Roads area.
“I love my life. Obviously, some days are hard. Coach is on you or this, that or the other. But if I take a step back and look at the bigger picture, I’m so fortunate. I’ve had so many great things happen to me. I've met so many great people. I'm in such a great atmosphere. I hope my story is one of appreciation. I’d be a shame not to enjoy it all.”
Paul Rowley is definitely enjoying it all.