Shooting to Win: Jay Bilas on the Importance of Continuing Education
Higher Education ESPN personality Jay Bilas has numerous accolades to his name: basketball analyst, NCAA star, lawyer. The accomplishment he’s most proud of? His commitment to education.
ESPN personality Jay Bilas doesn’t believe in using the label “student-athlete.” After all, the former NCAA basketball star and current basketball analyst—not to mention lawyer, basketball camp founder and columnist—has never let his sports career define or limit him.
“They don’t use the term student-thespian, or student-journalist or student-musician—labeling our athletes as such is a mistake,” Bilas said. “Every person, no matter what they do outside of class, is a student.”
Even before Sports Illustrated called Bilas the best basketball analyst in the United States, the Los Angeles native had more than a few accolades to his name. Bilas, 51, and a father of two, received his undergraduate degree in political science in 1986 from Duke University, where he was a four-year starter on the school’s basketball team. Following graduation, Bilas was drafted to the Dallas Mavericks then opted to play overseas in Italy and Spain for three seasons.
But Bilas’ hunger to learn drew him back to the classroom. Attracted to the idea of learning to think critically and analytically, Bilas returned to his alma mater to receive his law degree in 1992, during which he served as a graduate assistant coach to the team for which he shot 55 percent accuracy during undergrad.
"There’s no statute of limitations on your education, so not every person is tethered to a campus for four years. You can take advantage of educational opportunities in a variety of ways in this country.”
“My sister went to law school before I did, but my parents encouraged us to look at the field as an option,” Bilas said. “They believed one of the good things about it was that you didn’t have to be a lawyer to make use of it, and I thought that was a good part of it as well.”
While Bilas is still part of the Moore & Van Allen law firm, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, as a litigator, he no longer practices.
However, the Emmy-nominated analyst says he still uses what he learned in school and in the courtroom as the co-host of ESPN’s ”College GameDay” and ”College Gamenight.”
Weeding through NCAA legislation and rules, and formulating arguments that are thorough and coherent—two essential functions of his job on screen—wouldn’t be as easy if he hadn’t clocked so much study time, he says.
Today, he encourages his children, 20-year-old Victoria Bilas, a sophomore art student at Duke University, and 18-year-old Anthony Bilas, who will soon be a freshman at Wake Forest University, to give their all not just in their studies, but in every activity.
“We’re not a preaching family, but school is a big part of their lives,” Bilas said. “They go every day; they do their homework. And we’ve always talked about giving their best effort in what they do, whether it’s arts or sports or their individual work.”
“I think the NCAA is the first to preach that education is a lifelong experience—that lifelong learning is a good thing,” Bilas added, “and I would do the same. There’s no statute of limitations on your education, so not every person is tethered to a campus for four years. You can take advantage of educational opportunities in a variety of ways in this country.”