Film traces for­mer ACC stars’ paths to coach­ing

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY T. KEUNG HUI [email protected]­sob­

Three for­mer North Carolina bas­ket­ball stars who thrilled ACC fans with their hoop skills are now hop­ing to share how they’ve be­come Tri­an­gle high school coaches and teach­ers.

For­mer UNC stars David Noel and Don­ald Wil­liams and for­mer Clem­son star Shawan Robin­son are the sub­jects of a new doc­u­men­tary called “Be­yond To­bacco Road.” The film looks at how all three men tran­si­tioned from be­ing col­lege and pro­fes­sional ath­letes to ed­u­ca­tors who are men­tor­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents and ath­letes, par­tic­u­larly African-Amer­i­can stu­dents.

“A lot of for­mer ath­letes are re­ally try­ing to help the youth of to­day and steer them in the right di­rec­tion,” said Wil­liams, 45, now the women’s bas­ket­ball coach at Wake­field High School in Raleigh. “They re­ally need it. They re­ally need pos­i­tive role mod­els in their lives, be­cause they’re not get­ting it at home.”

The film’s pro­duc­tion team re­cently launched a fundrais­ing cam­paign,, to raise $59,000 to make the doc­u­men­tary.

“Be­yond To­bacco Road” is a pas­sion project for Rob Phillips, the film’s di­rec­tor and pro­ducer and an English teacher at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh. His first film, “Teacher of the Year,” chron­i­cled a year in the life of ac­tivist and fel­low Leesville teacher Angie Sci­oli.

As a for­mer bas­ket­ball player at UNC-Pem­broke, Phillips, 44, said he wanted to ex­plore what life is like when ath­letes move on af­ter their play­ing days end. Through his con­tacts from his bas­ket­ball days, Phillips was able to get Noel, Robin­son and Wil­liams to agree to be in the film.

Noel, 34, was a star at South­ern High School in Durham be­fore be­ing a mem­ber of UNC’s 2005 na­tional cham­pi­onship bas­ket­ball team. Af­ter play­ing in the NBA and over­seas, he re­turned to South­ern High to be­come a his­tory teacher and head men’s bas­ket­ball coach.

“They get a chance to see some­one who sat in the same classes they’re sit­ting in, walked the same halls they’re walk­ing in and played in the same gym,” Noel said. “They can see you can have a big­ger vi­sion than South­ern.

“There are mul­ti­ple ways you can do it. You do it in ath­let­ics, but you can do it prin­ci­pally in ed­u­ca­tion.”


Robin­son, 35, was a stand­out at Leesville be­fore be­com­ing an Aca­demic All-Amer­i­can at Clem­son. Af­ter play­ing over­seas, he re­turned to the U.S. and is now a health teacher and head men’s bas­ket­ball coach at Pan­ther Creek High School in Cary.

“High school seems per­fect,” Robin­son said. “I’m able to bal­ance life, spend time with my fam­ily and spend time in the game and be part of it.”

Wil­liams played at Gar­ner High School be­fore be­ing named the 1993 NCAA tour­na­ment’s Most Out­stand­ing Player for the na­tional cham­pi­onship­win­ning UNC team. Af­ter play­ing over­seas, he de­cided that the next chap­ter of his life would be coach­ing bas­ket­ball and work­ing with stu­dents who are fac­ing dis­ci­pline is­sues.

One of the things the three for­mer play­ers want to ex­plore in the film is how they as AfricanAmer­i­can ed­u­ca­tors can serve as role mod­els. A study of 100,000 North Carolina black ele­men­tary school stu­dents found that hav­ing access to just one black teacher in­creased their chances of not drop­ping out of high school.


The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of teach­ers in North Carolina and na­tion­ally are white women, even as the per­cent­age of mi­nor­ity stu­dents con­tin­ues to grow.

“You re­ally don’t have many black Amer­i­can males work­ing in the school sys­tem,” Wil­liams said. “We need more. The pres­ence of hav­ing an African-Amer­i­can teacher on cam­pus is re­ally huge.”

African-Amer­i­can stu­dents ac­count for the ma­jor­ity of school sus­pen­sions. Wil­liams said that stu­dents who are hav­ing dis­ci­pline is­sues of­ten just need at­ten­tion and some­one they can talk to about what they’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

As­sum­ing the funding is found, Phillips, the di­rec­tor, said he wants to have the film shown by 2020. He’s get­ting help from Peter Gil­bert, one of the film­mak­ers be­hind “Hoop Dreams,” the ground­break­ing 1994 doc­u­men­tary that fol­lowed two AfricanAmer­i­can high school ath­letes from Chicago. Gil­bert is Phillips’ ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.

“It’s more than just about bas­ket­ball and ed­u­ca­tion,” Phillips said of his new film. “It’s a story of who we are as a cul­ture, what we value and what we sup­port and don’t sup­port.”

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