Friday, January 3, 2003


HPU alumnus Benny Agbayani gave tips to Danny Higa at a clinic last week in Waipio.

Reaching a higher degree

2 of Hawaii Pacific's
most celebrated athletes
finally graduate, but from
different perspectives

By Jerry Campany

When an athlete leaves school early to start down the long road to fame and fortune, the pathway is jammed with detractors, people who say that the world is not a nice place for those who do not have a college degree.

As Benny Agbayani and James Williams have learned, those detractors are often right.

Agbayani and Williams may be Hawaii Pacific's most celebrated athletes. They certainly were in 1993, when both -- Agbayani is the school's career home-run leader and nobody in school history has pulled down more rebounds than Williams -- decided to leave the school to start careers in professional athletics. They will reunite at the Waikiki Shell next Friday when they graduate from the school after nine years.

Agbayani, an outfielder in the Boston Red Sox organization, survived the road to the majors and needs a degree about as much as he needs another cup of Benny Bean coffee. He isn't even sure what his degree is in -- for the record, it's a bachelor of arts in leisure and recreational studies -- only that it was something he needed to take care of before his daughter Aleia begins considering colleges.

"I think education is important. You don't know how long you are going to play this game," Agbayani said. "Something could happen and you might have to enter the real world. With my status in Hawaii I could probably get a job anyway, but this is just that little extra boost."

Agbayani was only a few credits short when he left HPU for the Pittsfield Mets in the New York-Penn League, and he caught up on them over the past two winters. This winter he juggled ball in the Mexico League with course work on-line.

Agbayani gave tips to Kaohu McCabe at a clinic last week in Waipio.

Aleia was not the only child who factored in Agbayani's decision to get his degree. The major-leaguer knows what he means to the kids of Hawaii, whether they are fans or following him down the road to the big leagues.

"I hope this opens some eyes for kids," Agbayani said. "They see that Benny went back to school and finished, maybe they should, too. Sometimes you look at it and say, 'Nah, I can just live on my money and forget school.' The main advice I give to new players is 'save your money.' The more you make the more you spend and it can always run out on you."

That is a lesson Williams knows well. Just before Agbayani made the leap, HPU's career record holder in games played went overseas to play ball just two classes short of graduation. Williams says he had no real NBA aspirations, he was just ready to move on to something different.

"When I finished I didn't have too many classes left to take, but I was tired of being in school," Williams said. "I wasn't a great student and when they said I was almost ready to graduate, it kind of shocked me and I took off."

Williams was just playing ball for the sake of playing ball. He played in places like the Netherlands, England and Austria and put together a large nest egg. The money wasn't what he was after, though. Just once, he wanted to be the one going to an NBA tryout rather than his teammates.

The call never came, though, so he was thrown into what Agbayani calls "the real world." Williams came back home and got a job at Costco. After a while, he ambled into then-coach Tony Sellitto's office to tell him that it was time to tie up the loose ends. Sellitto was more than accommodating; both Agbayani and Williams say that taking away Sellitto's favorite conversation piece was a factor in their finally getting it done.

Unlike Agbayani, who did most of his course work on-line while playing winter ball, Williams completed his degree much like any other student. He attended the classes and took the tests and hopes his degree in human resource development will pay off in a job with Child Protective Services.

Although Williams is not as celebrated as Agbayani, he had the same motivations to finally get it done. Both men's wives thought it a good idea, and both knew they could set an example. People follow Agbayani's advice without ever really meeting him because he is a major-league baseball player. People listen to Williams because they know and respect him.

"You want to set an example for kids, even the other players you run into," Williams said. "I had a hard time graduating; it took me this long, I want people to know to never give up. As hard as it may be, never quit anything. Also, if you need help, ask for it. That was another of my problems, I could never ask for help."

Whatever other reasons Agbayani and Williams had for getting their degrees after nine years away, the most important reason is a selfish one. They can speak about the kids, the future, economics and all, but it all comes down to one thing for both of them -- pride.

"It has always been one of my goals since my wife graduated (in 1992) and started bugging me about it," Agbayani said.

"If I hadn't done it, it would have nagged at me for the rest of my life," Williams said.

HPU Sports

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