Los Angeles to Lexington: Jodie Meeks back on campus in pursuit of a college degree

The Los Angeles Lakers’ Jodie Meeks (20) gets a pass off in front of the Memphis Grizzlies’ Austin Daye at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, on Friday, April 5, 2013. Photo by Wally Sklaij

By Brett Bibbins | @BBibbins_Kernel

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Most multimillionaire professional athletes choose to spend their offseason on a tropical beach, in a foreign country or pursuing some more than likely ill-fated acting career, such as Shaquille O’Neal’s 1996 movie “Kazaam.”

However, for Jodie Meeks of the Los Angeles Lakers, a college classroom is the destination for his summer vacation.

Before Meeks left UK for the NBA, he made a promise to his parents that he would return to school to complete his degree.

“When I left school early, after my junior year, I committed to myself and to my family that I would come back at some point,” Meeks said in an interview with the Kernel.

The Los Angeles Laker is now in his third summer returning to class to chip away at his remaining uncompleted credit hours.

His parents, Orestes and Margaret Meeks, both have college degrees, so they were unconvinced that he should leave school early, but in the end it was Meeks’ decision to make.

“My parents were a little on the edge about it. They didn’t really know what to think,” Meeks said. “But they pretty much let me make my own decision and they supported me leaving. But at the same time, they wanted me to come back and get my degree.”

Meeks is currently enrolled in a retail management and a marketing class, and after this summer, he will only need to complete two more classes to fulfill his degree requirements and become a UK graduate.

Attempting to go back to school after being removed from a classroom setting wasn’t easy, Meeks admitted, but being so close to graduating is a motivating factor to keep going.

“It’s a little different coming back, I’m not used to getting up early anymore,” he said jokingly. “But it’s going well, though, it’s challenging. You know, I was so close to finishing after my junior year, I was so close, that I might as well come back and finish.”

Despite the challenges of returning to school, Meeks has no regrets about leaving for the NBA after his junior season.

“I think I definitely made the right decision,” he said. “You have to go while your name is hot and I had a great year my junior year. I think we would’ve been pretty good if I returned, but you have to do what’s best for you, and I think I did that.”

While playing at UK, Meeks was a prolific scorer, averaging 23.7 points per game his junior season, while shooting 40.6 percent from 3-point land and 90.2 percent from the free throw line.

He holds the UK record for points in a single game, scoring 54 against Tennessee in January 2009, breaking Dan Issel’s record. In that game, the second team All-American also broke the UK record for 3-point shots made in a game, going 10-of-15 from behind the arc.

Meeks was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with pick number 11 of the second round of the 2009 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-4 shooting guard was traded from the Bucks to the Philadelphia 76ers part way through the 2009-10 season and played the next two seasons in Philadelphia before becoming a free agent in the summer of 2012.

It was then that the Norcross, Ga., native was signed to a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers worth $1.5 million with a team option for a second year, also at $1.5 million.

Meeks averaged 7.9 points and 2.2 rebounds, while shooting 35.7 percent from 3-point range in his first season in Los Angeles.

The Lakers finished 45-37 on the season, but were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in round one of the NBA Playoffs.

A sprained ankle made Meeks sit out the final two games of the playoff series, an injury which is still lingering into the summer.

“I’m just relaxing right now. My ankle is still kind of messed up a little bit, it’s not 100 percent yet,” Meeks said. “So I’m doing some rehab with that, getting some treatment and I’ll probably start working out within the next couple weeks.”

With the signing of free agents Dwight Howard and Steve Nash last summer, expectations for 2012-13 were high for the Lakers.

However, frequent injuries hindered them from developing into a true title contender. Meeks conceded that his first season in L.A. ended earlier than he had both wanted and expected.

With the team’s struggles, Meeks can draw a comparison between the 2012-13 Lakers and the 2012-13 Cats.

“This past year was a disappointing season for them, but that kind of stuff happens — just like it did for our year,” he said. “Hopefully we both can come back strong next season.”

The Lakers have yet to inform Meeks if they will exercise their option on his contract for 2013-14.

“They just basically said, ‘be ready to come back,’ but you never know what’s going to happen with the situation as a team. Dwight (Howard) is still a free agent and you never really know how they will handle it, because it really is a business in the end.”

When classes end for the summer, Meeks will be more than happy to be back in California wearing purple and gold

“I loved it this year playing in L.A. and I loved the city. My teammates were very encouraging and we had a lot of good veteran leadership. I like playing under Coach D’Antoni as well.”

Meeks is hopeful for a successful future with the Lakers, and is also hopeful that success comes to his alma mater next year, as well.

UK’s No. 1 overall recruiting class for next season is widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best recruiting class in college basketball history.

UK fans are anticipating big things next season, and Meeks is no different.

“I’m looking forward to seeing them,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot about them. Hopefully they come back from the disappointing season last season and win a national championship.”