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2009 News Releases

Former Longwood basketball star Jerome Kersey to speak at Commencement

April 8, 2009

Jerome Kersey Jerome Kersey when he walked at the 2006 commencement (photo taken by Kent Booty)

Former Longwood University basketball star Jerome Kersey, whose grit and hard work took him from a then-obscure Division II program to a successful 17-year career in the National Basketball Association (NBA), will be the speaker for Longwood's commencement.

The ceremony will be Saturday, May 9, at 9:30 a.m. on Wheeler Mall. [Learn more about Commencement 2009] Some 797 bachelor's degrees and 173 master's degrees are expected to be awarded. Kersey participated in the 2006 commencement after finishing his degree online.

Kersey, a Clarksville native, starred in the basketball program from 1980 to 1984 at Longwood, where during his senior season he earned 1st Team All-America and State Player of the Year honors and led the nation's Division II players in rebounding. He still holds 10 Longwood school records, including career rebounds, steals and blocked shots, and was Longwood's all-time leading scorer until that record was later broken. He was inducted into the Longwood Athletics Hall of Fame in its inaugural class in 2005, and last year he was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and its Oregon counterpart.

Kersey was chosen by the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round (46th pick overall) of the 1984 NBA draft and played 11 seasons in Portland, where he became a fan favorite for his hustle, twice led the team to the NBA Finals (1990 and '92), and became only the second player in franchise history to score 10,000 career points and grab 5,000 career rebounds. The 6'7" forward finished second in Blazers' history in games played and rebounds, third in blocked shots and steals, and fourth in points. After leaving Portland, he played six more seasons for several teams, winning an NBA championship in 1999 with the San Antonio Spurs before retiring in 2001.

His best season was 1987-88, his first as a starter, when he averaged 19.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. In 1987 he was runnerup to the legendary Michael Jordan in the NBA's Slam-Dunk competition. His crucial blocked shot of Phoenix Suns' guard Jeff Hornacek - called "the most sensational defensive play of the series" - and subsequent layup with less than a minute to go in game 6 of the 1990 Western Conference finals helped the Blazers' win the game, clinching the series.

During his career, he was one of only a handful of former Division II players in the NBA. Longwood has since moved up to Division I, the highest level in intercollegiate athletics.

"Coming from...Longwood College, Jerome Kersey seemed an unlikely candidate to wear a Blazers uniform for 11 seasons," said an article on OregonLive.com. "But Kersey's combination of hustle, heart and desire won over a legion of fans during the Blazers' glory days from 1990 to 1994." The Blazers' web site calls him "the consummate over-achiever. His work ethic was exemplary and his competitive nature was a driving force that kept him in the league for 17 years."

Kersey has always attributed his work ethic to his grandparents, Mary Elizabeth and Herman Kersey, whom he calls "Mom" and "Dad," who raised him from the age of two, in addition to raising their own six children. "Mom worked the graveyard shift, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., at the Russell Stover Candy factory, cleaning machines, and Dad worked in a sawmill," he said. "I would see her get up when she wasn't feeling well and go to work with aches and pains, so I figured that I would work hard. Dad died in 1992, but Mom is still alive and just turned 80."

Kersey's decision to finish his degree was prompted by a desire to set a good example for his daughter, Kiara, now a 14-year-old high school freshman who is a serious volleyball player. In January 2006 he contacted Longwood officials and arranged to take two courses, Physics 101 and Social Work 490, from his home in the Portland suburb of Happy Valley, Ore. He completed a B.S. in social work and walked in the commencement ceremony in May 2006.

"It was challenging to have to go back and put your head in the books after all those years," he said with a laugh. "But, I wanted to show my daughter how important it was."

Kersey, 46, is currently a Blazer Ambassador, a part-time community relations position with his former team; a health coach for Take Shape For Life; and director of project development for Kuri Productions Inc., a California-based film company. He wrote the foreword to the 2005 novel Takin' It Back by John Kuri, the company's founder, which is being turned into a film. After retiring from the NBA, Kersey was director of player programs for the Trail Blazers (2003-04) and an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks (2004-05). He wants to eventually go into management with the Blazers, all of whose home games he attends.

"I'm going to talk at commencement about staying on your path," he said. "You have a path in life where you're going and where you want to go. You go through steps, through a progression, and it's important to stay focused, to stay on that path."