‘Enjoy It While You Can’: Denver Nuggets Guard Julyan Stone Talks About What It’s Like To Be A D-I College Athlete
As athletes make the transition from high school to college, the world changes. The pressure to succeed rises and the innocence of playing with your friends disappears. Balance that with attending classes and things can get complicated awfully fast.
During the NBA offseason, Denver Nuggets second-year guard Julyan Stone takes some time to reminisce about playing for his alma mater UTEP and offers his advice to college students from personal experience.
What was the biggest transition for you going from to high school to college?
Julyan Stone: Just the time management. Just being on your own and thinking for yourself was the biggest difference. In high school you kind of have week-long assignments, but with college it’s day-to-day. That’s why I think the biggest adjustment is just time management, you know, being on your own.
You were born in Virginia and went to high school in Santa Barbara, Calif. What was the hardest part about leaving those places to go to college in Texas?
JS: The hardest part is leaving your family…my family is my rock…but it was something I had to do to just better myself. To me, more than anything, you have to be mentally prepared. It’s just something you have to get used to and look at it like “I’m not leaving my family. I’m just helping myself for the future.” That’s the way I look at it.
Did you always think that you were going to go pro when you were in college?
JS: I knew it. A lot of other people didn’t, but I knew…For me, I wasn’t highly recruited out of high school—pretty much just two offers. It was always something I had to believe in myself with and something that people around me had to believe in.
As a D-I athlete, what were some things that were difficult to balance while in college?
JS: Balancing academics and [sports] is probably the hardest part about it. Ultimately, you’re there to go to school. For me in particular, study hall was very important to me. You have to take study hall seriously in order to be successful in college…That’s the hardest thing about being a college athlete—balancing the academics and athletics. A lot of guys aren’t focused when they get to college. They think it’s all about [sports].
My first year, I had three guys on my team go on academic probation. I think it’s more embarrassing to not play [because of grades] than to tell your boys, “Yo, I can’t go out. I have to do homework.” You just have to balance your study hall hours. I mean, you should have fun in college, but you have to understand the balance.
If I was going to go out on Friday or Saturday night, I made it a point to wake up Sunday morning to work out and get my school in. You can go out and party. That’s fine. I did it, but you have to be mentally prepared and say, “Okay, I have to wake up at 8 and finish whatever job I have to get done.” It takes focus. This you’re your life now. You’re not under your parent’s wing anymore.
What are some of the hardest things D-I athletes have to deal with?
JS: I think the hardest part is that now you’re going into a place and competing against other D-I athletes. Most people that play at D-I are the man at their high school in their city. Now you’re playing against other guys who are “the man.” When I first got to college, for the first three weeks, I was on the third squad. I thought, “Man, I was the man in high school and now I feel like a bum.”
I think another one of the hardest parts about being a D-I athlete is the females. Especially at a D-I football-basketball school or whatever sport is known [at your college]. Now you have every female in the school chasing you. It can get to your head. For us, we won 19 games in a row—the longest streak in the country. We had girls at away games in hotels, we had them at the clubs waiting for us.
When your team is doing something, everybody wants to be seen with you. It’s like that for girls and guys. I think you have to be able to weed out ones that are the jersey-chasers from ones that you’re cool with. A lot of guys mess up because girlfriends are the easiest thing to get.
Did college ever feel like an afterthought?
JS: I think all athletes get to that point. It’s like you’re there to play [your sport] and then you think, ‘Damn, why am I here for school.’ But ultimately, like I said, you have a small chance of actually making it [professionally]. You have to be realistic. You’re getting scholarships in college and going to school for free. Other kids would die for that opportunity. I think you have to be real to yourself because what happens if you [get injured] and can’t ever play again? Putting [why you play collegiate sports] into perspective is really important.
What advice do you have for someone playing college sports to get to the professional level?
JS: Oh man—I would just tell them to be humble. When I say ‘be humble’ that means be ready to get your education and just be prepared. Don’t allow what you’ve done in the previous years affect what you’re trying to do in college because, now, it doesn’t mean anything. I would just say be humble because you haven’t accomplished anything yet. You’re just another fish in the pond.
How do you know who to listen to?
JS: The same people you grew up with or the same people that have been there from the beginning, you listen to. Those are the people that are telling you what you’re doing bad and not just telling you what you want to hear all the time. If they’re always telling you what you want to hear and have ulterior motives then you have to stay away. The one’s that will tell you that you’re messing up or that you’re stupid you can tell are the ones that care about you.
I think you have to also listen to yourself because people around you will change. You’re doing it for you. People can help you get there, but all your hard work is what got you there. Ultimately, you have to be in-tune with yourself.
What about who not to listen to?
JS: People looking for handouts or people that look at you for what you could possibly be and not who you are…My best friend from Santa Barbara won’t take anything from me. I have to kind of beat him up just to get him to take it from me. Those are the ones you want around.
Why was it important for you to finish all four years at UTEP?
JS: For me, I wasn’t a big-name guy so you have to be real with yourself and say, “This [sports] thing might not work out.” You have to have another avenue. But I’m all for guys going after one year. My thing is, if your stock is high, and you know you can be a top-10 pick, and you come from nothing, you have to get it while you can get it…For me, I wasn’t one of those guys that were highly recruited…I was a terrible student in high school, but when I got to college I had a whole different mindset because I saw in high school how close I was to not going to college. I didn’t want that to happen to me again. That’s what made it a big deal for me—and seeing the smile on my mother’s face.
Now that you’ve made it and can take a step back from the college experience, what would you say to anyone playing college sports?
JS: I would just embrace it and enjoy it while you can because it all runs out.
I miss the [college] atmosphere. It is so much different [than the NBA]. The NBA is more of a business. College has its politics, but in the college atmosphere you’re playing against your peers. The fans are college students. You know a lot of them. You see them on campus. It’s that sense of college pride. [In the pros] you have your city pride, which is cool, but in college, you have the city and you’re actual school that you’re at every day—that you take part in. To me, the biggest part about college was playing in front of those students and people you’re in class with every day.
[In the pros], it becomes somewhat of a celebrity. In college, it’s celebrity as well, but you’re not as big of a national figure. In college, you’re a college celebrity, but you’re still like everyone else. You’re in the same school with everybody—you’re in the same class with everybody. People get to have a respect for you because they know you’re just a regular dude. [In the pros] you have to be much more cautious. Everything about college is a humbling experience.