- Associated Press - Friday, May 8, 2015

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - When former Syracuse star Derrick Coleman became the top pick in the NBA draft a quarter of a century ago, he didn’t have enough credits to earn his degree.

He does now.

Former guards Eric Devendorf and Mookie Jones also will receive their degrees this weekend, as well as current players Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney. Senior Rakeem Christmas graduated a semester early in December.

“It was great for him (Coleman) to do that,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said Friday. “He promised his mother. It’s not that easy to come back and finish. It’s pretty darned good that these guys have been able to do this. It’s a great example for all young kids.”

Coleman, who finished his studies in sociology online, will celebrate with his mother back home in Detroit. Devendorf, now 28 and the father of two young daughters, will get his diploma in communication and rhetorical studies, and the 25-year-old Jones graduates with a degree in child and family studies.

Devendorf had his share of troubles in college, including a torn-up knee to two suspensions, one for striking a woman.

“It was always in the back of my mind,” Devendorf said of completing a degree. He left school after the 2009 season with one year of eligibility remaining, declared for the NBA, and wasn’t drafted. “My mother always reminded me. I just had to follow through with it. I was so close to finishing. I’m proud of myself, and I’m happy I was able to do that for her.”

Devendorf finished his last 21 credits while in Syracuse for back surgery last summer. He is 14th all-time in scoring at Syracuse (1,680 points) and called graduating an unbelievable feeling.

“I did stuff in the past, made mistakes, and I learned from them. I’m happy where I’m at right now,” said Devendorf, who has played pro basketball in eight countries including Greece and China, and hopes to play again somewhere next season. “To come back and have all the support from the staff and everybody makes it that much easier.”

Jones, a native of Peekskill, New York and a fan favorite as a player, was suspended from school in the middle of his senior season (2011-12) for disciplinary reasons and left the team. After a couple of appeals, Jones finally was allowed to return to take classes. He went back to school while working in the stockroom of a sporting goods store, living with the help of food stamps.

Jones, who also has two daughters, and Devendorf now realize what the vast majority of student-athletes eventually have to learn.

“When you finally get to the highest level, everyone’s not going to get drafted, everybody’s not going to make it to the NBA or NFL or whatever it may be,” Devendorf said. “But you can always have that degree for the long term. This solidified my long-term future.”

Jones said he’s thinking about becoming a motivational speaker.

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Follow Kekis on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/Greek1947


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