For many young and talented athletes, the norm has greatly shifted. The days of young basketball prodigies going to college, graduating, and then pursuing a career in sports have almost become non-existent. Dr. Jann H. Adams, a professor of Psychology at Morehouse College, helped shape her son, Malcolm Brogdon, into a highly talented basketball player who always put hard work and education first.
Brogdon, a 6-foot-5 senior guard at the University of Virginia, is one of the nation’s best basketball players. His averages of 18.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.9 assists were good enough for him to be nominated for the Naismith Trophy given to the male and female college player of the year.
Unfortunately for Brogdon, his college career ended Sunday when No. 10 seed Syracuse upset No. 1 seed Virginia in the Midwest Regional Final of the NCAA Tournament.
The world may finally be noticing the supreme skills Brogdon possesses on the hardwood, however, his mother was one of the first to notice it years ago.
“I knew by seventh grade he was really good compared to his peers,” Adams said. “He was on a really good seventh-grade team at his school and I could tell Malcolm was the best among his peers at the time.”
Although clearly talented at basketball early, Brogdon showed equal promise on the soccer field. Great success in both sports put Brogdon in a crossroads early in his life as he was forced to make a decision between the two sports he loved the most.
“His soccer club was in a highly competitive league at the time as well,” Adams said. “We realized he couldn’t play both sports due to traveling and practices. He ultimately decided to go for basketball.”
Malcolm is the youngest of three boys. Gino Brogdon, 28, is a 2008 Morehouse graduate and John Brogdon, 25, is currently enrolled at Harvard Law School. Much of Malcolm’s hard work on the hardwood and relentless competitiveness is credited to his brother John, who shared a similar love for basketball and extreme work ethic to get better
“My older brother was always in the gym and I saw how hard he worked,” Malcolm told ESPN.com. “Around middle school, I was in there with him and I started to love it.”
Adams, who is a true believer in work ethic and performing to the best of your ability, has noticed the trend spread throughout her entire family, including Malcolm.
“I think we have a family that really has always focused on work,” Adams said. “The idea is some people are super gifted and talented. I think you just have to be talented enough and outwork everybody. Our thing around schoolwork and everything was work ethic. My (former) husband was a hard worker and I work hard as well. I think our children really got to see that first-hand.”
Brogdon has built a reputation for working on his weaknesses since arriving onto the national scene in 2013 as a freshman. That same mindset and intensity toward getting better are what helped lead him to Virginia before he even knew it.
“People would say things like his feet were too slow and he’s not this or that,” Adams said. “They would say to him as early as the ninth grade that he wasn’t athletic enough to play D-I (Division I) basketball. But he continued to work.”
The early critics of Brogdon have now proven to be false to the core. However, those same naysayers helped motivate him as he continued to outwork his peers, which eventually led to colleges noticing.
“That was my motivation,” Brogdon told ESPN.com. “People would downplay how good I was, or my athleticism would be the knock, and that added fuel to the fire.”
Brogdon received his first offer at the end of 10th grade from The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. Upon visiting that summer, Brogdon wasn’t the biggest fan of the heavy military format of the institution.
A year later, Brogdon received his first big offer from Clemson University. Following Clemson came a number of impressive schools including Vanderbilt, Harvard, Georgia, and Virginia, where he ultimately decided to attend after a memorable visit.
“I liked the visit to Virginia because I know how some of the recruiting processes can be,” Adams said. “They take you out to steak dinners and bring you to parties. Virginia didn’t do any of that. By the end of our visit, Malcolm wanted to commit that night, but I wouldn’t let him. The commitment came the very next day. I loved the way they treated him. The visit was respectful of our values and focused on the right things.”
Brogdon had his fair share of difficult moments at Virginia. During his freshman season, Brogdon broke a bone in his foot, which sidelined him for the remainder of that season, and ultimately led to a red-shirt sophomore year in which he remained in school but did not play on the team.
The broken bone healing process was a very difficult one that served as a character-building period for the Atlanta native. Although Brogdon was healthy enough to play by January of his sophomore year, the redshirt prohibited him from doing so.
“Going through something like that totally changes your perspective,” Brogdon told ESPN.com. “It’s humbling and shows you that you can be a big, D-I athlete but in the flick of a moment, you can be taken down. It made me realize that basketball is just a game; there’s also other things in life that you should put your focus toward.”
Brogdon used that time sidelined to work even harder, which helped him refocus on his education. Last spring Brogdon received his bachelor’s degree in History and is now enrolled in an accelerated masters program at UVA’s Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, which he will graduate from this May.
“I feel super proud of him,” Adams said. “My philosophy in life has been if you have good character and you’re willing to work, it will all work out.”
Brogdon has already won the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors and was in contention for the Naismith Trophy with Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Tyler Ulis (Kentucky) and Denzel Valentine (Michigan State). Adams remains grateful and excited for his opportunities in the near and distant future.
“Malcolm’s actual long-term goal has always been to start an NGO (non-governmental organization),” Adams said. “He very much wants to do work in West Africa and that’s honestly what I want for him. If Malcolm can play in the NBA for 10 years, he will be in his 30s. So then he’s going to have a whole long life after that and he can use his masters and build relationships that will allow him to do great work.”