In New Book, Terps Basketball Player Explores Academic Struggles, Encourages Youth to Seek Help
By Liam Farrell
Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics
When Donta Scott blows past the UConn Huskies team for a rim-rattling dunk or rainbows a three-pointer over the outstretched hand of a Michigan Wolverine, it’s hard to believe there was ever a time when the 6-foot-8-inch, 230-pound forward felt overwhelmed.
But while growing up in Philadelphia, his athletic career almost never had a chance to take flight. From the beginning of elementary school, he was consumed with frustration at keeping up and behaving in class.
“It was hard for me to just deal with school,” said the junior. “Those emotions—I just locked them up.”
As a star big man who won state and city championships at Imhotep Charter, Scott eventually found his solace in basketball. He also wants to share the hard work and lessons learned from his educational progress in a new book out now, “Wired Differently: My School Journey.”
“I’ve been doing this so long, there have been so many great stories,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “But this is one of the all-time great stories—where he is now, and hopefully where he can end up.”
Scott was one of the Terps’ most improved players last year, averaging 11 points and a team-high 5.9 rebounds a game. He’s expected to play a key role again in the UMD men’s basketball season, which begins tonight at home against Quinnipiac.
Scott was hit by a car as a toddler and hospitalized with a head injury that he believes has made academics an uphill climb for most of his life, and he was later diagnosed with a learning disorder.
“I was late coming to things,” he said. “(With basketball) I started clicking and seeing the bigger picture.”
Scott wants the book to offer hope to young athletes who have learning disabilities and other academic struggles, and help them overcome the fear of asking for help. The youngest of nine, Scott is the first of his siblings to attend a four-year-college and wants to use his platform to offer concrete guidance on how to meet admission standards and qualify for scholarships as well be a role model for anyone who may not have one at home.
“Even if you don’t see it, there are kids who look up to you,” he said.
The book was written and published with Delgreco Wilson, a fixture of the Philadelphia basketball community who mentors students through the college recruiting process. A friend of Scott’s youth basketball coach, Wilson said Scott was often labeled a “bad kid” because his anger with schoolwork would boil over.
“Young Black guys struggle, and there’s a stigma attached to learning difficulty,” he said. “Instead of just saying, ‘I don’t understand,’ or ‘I need extra help,’ they act out. They are just trying to keep people off the fact they don’t know how to do the work.”
Scott was recruited by schools including Georgetown, Seton Hall and South Carolina, but it was his comfort with UMD’s academic support staff that made the difference, Wilson said.
“He has absolutely just taken control over that aspect of his life,” he said. “Donta takes his time and learns. Once he grasps something, he really has got it.”
Scott acknowledges it took some time to find his groove in college, but an emphasis on scheduling and time management has made the difference.
“Coach Turgeon always says, ‘It’s bigger than basketball’,” Scott said. “You’ve got to have the education.”
Another off-court challenge came in September, when the remnants of Hurricane Ida flooded his family’s home and destroyed most of their possessions. The UMD basketball community rallied around him, and a GoFundMe campaign raised $60,000 to help. Scott said his mother, Sandra, will soon rent a new house and be able to attend his games this season.
“I know my mom’s a strong person,” he says. “(And) she wants me to be strong.”
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