Focusing on your dreams while seeing others venture down a more traditional path can be extremely challenging. For current Princeton University (N.J.) men’s basketball assistant coach and Emory University men’s basketball alumnus Lawrence Rowley (21C), doing so has allowed him to continue prioritizing basketball.

“At a place like Emory, there is a lot of pressure,” Rowley said. “[It’s] a top 25 school every year, people are getting amazing jobs and internships as well as achieving incredible things. There is pressure to take the first job offer you may have or whatever job is paying the most in order to keep up with the competitive atmosphere around you. But, sometimes you just have to take a chance and pursue what you love.”

Rowley studied economics at Emory, but upon graduation, he took a chance and pursued what he was truly passionate about: coaching basketball. 

“As a freshman and sophomore at Emory, coaching was always a thought in the back of my head,” Rowley said. “But, my first internships were all econ-based because I thought that was what I wanted to do.”

Like many college athletes, Rowley lost a year of competition due to the pandemic. However, the absence of competitive basketball during that time was a reflective period for Rowley, as he gained clarity on what he truly wanted to do with his future.  

“[The pandemic] gave me a lot of time to think,” Rowley said. “I talked to some of my mentors, my high school coach and [Emory men’s basketball head coach Jason Zimmerman], so it was that fall of my senior year where I decided that coaching was something I wanted to go after and take a chance on.” 

Despite being confident that coaching was the career path he wanted to follow, the process of finding a job did not go as smoothly as Rowley would have liked. Over the summer, he grew “increasingly nervous” as his list of contacts grew shorter and he was still without any responses, but he kept searching. 

“There are not hundreds of [coaching] jobs in every city,” Rowley said. “You don’t choose this profession for the money, but I am proud of myself for taking the chance, and I had so many people supporting me and many great mentors to talk to. It was something I was really passionate about and I love doing it, and I believe if you have that opportunity to pursue something you are passionate about, people should start doing it more often.” 

Rowley received his first coaching job at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) in 2021, where he served as a graduate assistant coach for the men’s basketball team. The position involved opponent scouting, recruiting prospective athletes, game planning, watching film and managing the team’s academic progress. 

Rowley said that changing his mindset from player to coach was difficult and allowed him to see the game differently. 

It took me a while to get the hang of it and change my perspective from a player to a coach,” Rowley said. “But, the staff at TCNJ was awesome. I worked under [head coach] Matt Goldsmith and [assistant coach] Matt Kittner, who were both huge in my development as they knew it was my first time coaching.” 

Rowley described his year at TCNJ as a learning experience during which he had to navigate the power dynamics of coaching his peers given it was his first experience. 

“The seniors were only a year younger than me,” Rowley said. “I had to find the line between demanding a certain level of respect as [their] coach, but also knowing that I would have a different relationship with my players than coaches who are a little older have with theirs.” 

Rowley officially joined the Princeton staff on July 7, 2022. The Tigers began their official season Nov. 7 and have six wins and two losses thus far. The Tigers can anticipate a promising season, and with the addition of Rowley’s experience and basketball prowess, they will be exciting to watch in the Ivy League. 

Prior to his coaching career, Rowley established himself as an exceptional basketball player at Emory. He was the 2020 University Athletic Association (UAA) Defensive Player of the Year and a Second Team All-UAA Honoree in 2019 and 2020. He also holds several program records – he ranks second in career field goal percentage (.560), 10th in career rebounds per game (6.2), 10th in blocked shots per game and 16th in career rebounds (479). To say the least, Rowley was a phenomenal athlete and strong leader for Emory’s basketball program.

Rowley spoke at length about the need for inspiration and attributed his success to the support system he had at Emory. In particular, he credited Emory men’s basketball assistant coach and alumnus Gebereal Baitey (19C) for helping him succeed as a student-athlete. 

“Gebereal was two years older than me, and as soon as I got to Emory he took me under his wing,” Rowley said. “He was a very successful basketball player and student at Emory, so me being younger and seeing the things [Baitey] was doing made him a role model to me. We still talk weekly and it’s awesome that we are growing up together as young coaches. He is also a Black man, so being a minority at a predominantly white institution, it is always important to have someone you can look up to in that way that will understand your perspective and experiences.”

Rowley said that he also holds immense respect and admiration for Zimmerman, who inspired him to pursue coaching. 

“Part of the reason I wanted to become a basketball coach was because I had such great coaches in the past,” Rowley said. “I believe they played a big part in me becoming who I am today, teaching me both things on the basketball court and life lessons. [Zimmerman] is someone I will stay in touch with for the rest of my life, and I will always have a lot of respect for what he does as a coach, but also for the person he is.”

Beyond the life lessons he learned from his coaches, Rowley said that being a student-athlete at Emory taught him the importance of time management and how to balance challenging academics while playing sports at an extremely competitive level, skills which he’s carried over to his professional career. 

“[Princeton] is very similar to Emory [in that] the athletes really care about competing and high performance, but also the academic piece,” Rowley said. “Having that background and experience from Emory not only prepared me to understand what our players are going through, but also when I interviewed and went through the process, my experience at Emory helped me get my foot in the door with this job.” 

Rowley also gained athletic leadership experience while at Emory, serving as a member of the Student Athlete Athletic Committee (SAAC) and Emory Athletic Director Search Committee and was one of four Emory representatives at the annual All-UAA Conference. 

As a member of SAAC, Rowley and his fellow representatives discussed ways to improve Emory’s student-athlete environment by increasing school spirit and name, image and likeness opportunities, but also touched on more serious topics. 

“A big thing we discussed was diversity, equity and inclusion,” Rowley said. “It’s important to make an environment where student athletes of all backgrounds feel included and comfortable, which goes with educating everyone around them and making sure everyone understands how much of a priority having diversity and making an inclusive environment is.”

Rowley was not only a role model to Emory students-athletes because of his athletic prowess, but also because of his dedication to academics, the athletic department and student-athlete culture. 

Instead of conforming to the pressure to fit a specific mold and follow the traditional career paths that those around him were pursuing, Rowley followed his heart and took a chance on chasing his dreams. Without a strong support system and the valuable lessons he learned at Emory, Rowley said that he would not have landed a position at Princeton or had the confidence to pursue his passion.

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