Isaiah Brock deserves a break

Paige Brockway, Editor-in-Chief

At 22, U.S. Army veteran Isaiah Brock has seen far more than your average college freshman. He spent four years serving in places including Kandahar, Afghanistan and Kuwait as a mortuary affairs specialist.

His daily reality was retrieving the bodies of fallen soldiers from the battlefield and preparing them to be sent back to American soil.

In summer 2015, 6-foot-8 Brock was recruited for Oakland University’s men’s basketball team after meeting Oakland head coach Greg Kampe in Kuwait during a Troops First Foundation program.

Now, an NCAA technicality is holding him back from joining the team on the court.

Last week, Brock was declared ineligible to play in the upcoming season because of his high school grades. The NCAA requires a minimum core courses GPA of 2.3.

But Brock has been out of high school for five years. He graduated from Forest Park High School in Baltimore in 2011 and finished his Army service in April 2016.

Brock lived on campus and trained with the basketball team this summer. He has taken four college courses so far – two at Oakland – and has proven his ability to succeed in these college courses by earning all A’s and B’s.

I had the unique pleasure of getting to know Brock this summer when I was placed in his first-year writing class as an embedded writing specialist. He took the course with two other basketball players. All three sat in the first row, squeezed into the tiny South Foundation Hall desks with their long legs sprawled out in front.

The first course assignment was to write a personal narrative about an experience with food.

While other students wrote about learning to prepare their favorite meal or missing their parents’ cooking, Brock wrote a piece about choking down an MRE (Meal Ready-to-Eat – a premade, dehydrated ration) after processing the remains of fallen soldiers in the blistering heat of Afghanistan. He drew parallels between teamwork on the battlefield and teamwork on the basketball court.

Most of the other students in the class were non-native English speakers who might have been otherwise hesitant to engage with the three student-athletes, but Brock consistently broke barriers down with simple, compassionate gestures like high fives or compliments on new haircuts. He came to every class period ready to contribute to discussions and build relationships with his peers.

Later in the semester, when a classmate expressed frustration with using public transportation to get to campus, Brock offered to pick her up from Pontiac. That’s just the type of generous person he is.

In watching Brock interact with his teammates and classmates, it was easy to see his natural leadership and mentorship abilities. It was also easy to see why Coach Kampe returned from Kuwait determined to bring Brock to Oakland on a basketball scholarship.

The NCAA has stipulated that Brock will be eligible to play in 2017-18 if he demonstrates “academic preparedness” in the current academic year. But what does he have left to prove?

As Kampe put it in a Detroit Free Press article, “This guy came eye-to-eye with the Taliban, and you’re going to tell him he can’t play basketball?”

While the NCAA is already facing media and public pressure, Oakland will appeal Brock’s ineligibility. No matter whether the appeal goes through, he will retain his scholarship.

High school grades become irrelevant after five years for any college student, let alone one who has given four years of service to his country.

In a college sport that is driven by rules and regulations, I would implore the NCAA to examine Brock’s appeal holistically and allow him to fully participate in the college basketball experience. He’s earned it.

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