The decision to play college basketball at Virginia had been an easy one for Malcolm Brogdon. He was offered a scholarship in July 2010, visited campus one day the next month and then committed the next morning. Convincing his grandparents, however, proved more tricky when Coach Tony Bennett and associate head coach Ritchie McKay came to Brogdon’s home outside Atlanta for a visit that fall.
Bennett had finished his pitch and looked around the room to ask whether anybody had any other questions.
“My mom had been really quiet, and she says, ‘I don’t have any questions. I wanted him to go to Harvard,’ ” Brogdon’s mother, Jann Adams, said with a laugh in a telephone interview. “My parents really couldn’t understand if you could get into Harvard, why wouldn’t you go?”
Brogdon is fast becoming a rarity in this age of one-and-done college basketball phenomenons.
He will begin his redshirt junior season Friday against James Madison in Harrisonburg, Va., as a preseason first-team all-ACC selection, a burgeoning star for No. 9 Virginia after leading the team in scoring last season. He is also simultaneously pursuing an undergraduate degree in history and an accelerated master’s degree in public policy at the university’s Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, intent on remaining on campus through next year, even if the NBA comes calling, because of a family steeped in educational accolades.
Brogdon’s mother is a psychology professor at Morehouse. His father, Mitchell Brogdon, is a mediator in Atlanta. His oldest brother is a lawyer, and another is pursuing a law degree at Howard. He has one aunt who went to Harvard Law School and another who went to Wharton. His grandmother has a doctorate in education.
So on top of leading the Cavaliers’ defense of their first ACC title since 1976, Brogdon is taking five classes this semester, including three graduate-level courses for the first time, in order to stay on track to earn both degrees by May 2016. The workload seems daunting even to his family.
“My thing with Malcolm sometimes is I want to make sure he stops and enjoys stuff and has fun,” Adams said. “He’s very focused, very goal oriented, very disciplined, and I want him to have fun in college, too. I’m not quite sure how he pulls all this stuff off.”
Much like Brogdon’s emergence as one of the country’s best guards, his pursuit of a master’s degree was hatched during the 2012-13 season, when his slow recovery from foot surgery forced him to redshirt. It was then that his mother “noticed a shift in him.” He needed an outlet for his frustration, and the challenge of pursuing dual degrees provided it.
So Brogdon switched majors and added an extra class each semester. He then applied and was accepted to the Batten School last year. His current course load includes classes in statistics and economics. He said he carried “a 3.1 or 3.2” grade-point average last semester.
“It’s not very high, but U-Va. is extremely tough,” Brogdon admitted sheepishly last week at the ACC’s annual media day.
Beneath this academic pedigree is a ruthless competitor who still remembers scoring 12 goals in a soccer game, running up the score as a 10-year-old at the behest of his father, “even though it was little kids’ league and it was totally unnecessary,” Brogdon said.
“The big thing with him was . . . you can’t get to the point where you think you’ve worked too much or worked enough,” he added of his father. “I think that’s what drives me every day.”
On the court, Brogdon will not wow fans with his numbers (12.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game last year) or his athleticism. One Web site recently rated him the 19th-best NBA prospect in the ACC, below teammate Mike Tobey.
But he is a physical and cerebral combo guard that fills up the stat sheet, gets to the free throw line and uses a high IQ to his advantage. Aware of his deficiencies, the 6-foot-5 Brogdon went to work this offseason in hopes of maximizing his strengths this winter.
He “learned it’s not as much about how long you’re in the gym but how efficient you are while in the gym” and shortened his workouts from two hours to 70 or 80 minutes per day. He nonetheless lost five pounds and got in the best shape of his career.
Knowing opponents now will focus on stopping him with Joe Harris in the NBA, Brogdon took countless jump shots off the dribble and worked to perfect a floater after struggling at times to finish at the rim. Already a good defender, he recommitted himself on that end “so there’s no question when I guard you during the games, you’re going to struggle tonight.”
But even though Brogdon has NBA aspirations, he said the decision to come back next year and finish his master’s degree is “set in stone.” Count his coach among those grateful that he plans to accomplish that goal away from the Ivy League.
“He values [education], and it’s showing in what he’s doing and what he’s going to get from Virginia,” Bennett said. “He’s a great ambassador for us.”
More NCAA basketball previews:
Women’s capsule previews: Surveying the D.C. area
National previews: ACC boasts a Mount Rushmore of coaches