The smile guy: Paul Rowley dishes on varsity basketball, law school and Jimmy Buffett

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Paul Rowley balances basketball and law school, all with his trademark smile. COURTESY PHOTO / GRACIE HARRIS.

Paul Rowley is the smile guy, the energy guy, the guy who graduated from the College of William and Mary in three years with a double major in computer science and finance while playing college basketball and started at the Marshall-Wythe School of Law in the fall of 2017 as one of three Division I athletes in the country going through law school.

But before he even imagined donning a green and gold jersey and stepping onto the glossy hardwood court of Kaplan Arena, he looked into the stands of his high school gymnasium during one particular game to see the children of his math teacher wearing homemade jerseys with Rowley’s name and number on them.

Graduating from Loudoun Valley High School in 2014, the decision to join the Tribe was not a hard one. Having looked at many different universities, Rowley said he felt at home in the locker room.

“When I was looking at colleges, I was looking among mostly academic schools because obviously academics are important. But at 16 when I was making that decision it was a large part of what basketball team do I fit in with, both on the court and off the court, and I think William and Mary has a thing for tall wings that shoot threes and it was a locker room that I really had a great feel for,” Rowley said.

The decision to graduate in three years with a double major in computer science and finance was, however, not an obvious one. Rowley said his original intention had been to take the minimum 12 credits required of student athletes per semester, but his dad convinced him otherwise.

“I remember my very first semester I was talking to my dad and I only wanted to take 12 credits … and my dad sat me down and he pulled up an Excel spreadsheet and he’s like, ‘Here are your AP credits, here are the potential classes you could take every semester throughout,’” Rowley said. “He’s like, ‘You could do all this, graduate in three years and get two majors out of it,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, but dad, I could also just take 12 credits and it would be very easy.’ But even just that one small decision kind of started me down this path.”

It was a path that has earned him numerous awards, both academic and athletic, and earned him the respect of fans. He was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in 2017, is a three-time winner of the Colonial Athletic Association Commissioner’s Academic Award and, this year, was named CAA Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

Having fallen in love with fans, teammates and fellow students, Rowley said the decision to stay at the College for graduate school was not a difficult one.

“I never wanted to go anywhere else,” Rowley said. “Just the environment, the support we have from fans, I love playing in Kaplan, I love this group of guys, I’m happy to play with this coaching staff. I don’t know how much better it could get, especially coming from a great academic school and having such great options, so I wanted to finish my career in green and gold. I really feel like I’ve grown roots here in Williamsburg.”

The decision to attend law school, however, took a little more thought. Rowley was approached by multiple professors in the computer science department who encouraged him to pursue a master’s degree, but he eventually decided computer science was not the direction he saw his life heading.

Instead, Rowley followed in the footsteps of his sister and entered the law school in the fall of 2017.

“I was looking at my other options; obviously law school is not a very popular one for sports, but my sister, actually, my freshman and sophomore year, went to the law school here and she graduated here and I saw her experience. I saw kind of the caliber of people she was in class with. I saw the intellectual material and I liked it,” Rowley said. “I guess it was a little bit of persistence, kind of poking my head around and seeing if I could get everybody to let me do it, and then they did, and I feel like it’s worked so far.”

Rowley said the law school helped him plan his schedule so he would be able to attend. Though he is still unsure of which type of law he’d like to pursue, Rowley hopes to make the decision after taking a few more classes and working at a firm over the summer.

Having taken courses in computer science, finance and law at William and Mary, Rowley has seen a lot of what the College has to offer academically. His favorite class, though, was not in any of those departments. Instead, it was a Southeast Asian dance and folklore course he took with former teammate Jack Whitman ’17 over a summer semester with a professor they called ‘Guru.’

“We started every class, we’d clean the floor with our shirts and we’d lay down and meditate for some place between 10 minutes and a half hour and, one, that meditation was awesome,” Rowley said. “I was doing so well then, like I was happy. I think I started shooting the ball better, my mind was clear. It was awesome, he made me believe in that and, two, I loved that environment and learning so much about such a different culture.”

Rowley said if it had not been for the liberal arts requirements posed by the College, he never would have taken the class, but he really enjoyed the final performance and the community the class formed.

“That was something I never would have taken if it wasn’t, a requirement and it was so cool,” Rowley said. “We ended up doing a final performance and were all wearing half skirts and we had face makeup on and my teammates were definitely, they clowned me about it, but from the inside we formed quite a community there for a month in summer school. It was a very, very cool class and Guru was fantastic.”

Outside of his coursework, Rowley said his favorite on-court moment happened last season in Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke.

“Just being at Cameron Indoor, it just feels like college basketball,” Rowley said. “That is one of the coolest places I’ve been, and I think it was, like, the day before Thanksgiving and there were students there before we got there, they still packed the place. Students were on break already and the place was still packed full, and I started that game and I made two early threes and maybe hit three of my first three [shots] and we were kind of going back and forth with them. That was definitely one of those moments where I was like, this whole thing is just, it’s so cool, it’s so cool what I get to do every day.”

Entering Kaplan Arena before a game, the first thing most students and fans hear is loud music blaring from the speakers and basketballs being dribbled on all corners of the court. But before he takes his first warm-up shot or even steps onto the court, Rowley gets himself ready by taking a nap and listening to the smooth beats of Jimmy Buffett.

“So, before every, almost every, game, I take a nap,” Rowley said. “They say naps are bad, they make you groggy. I like to think I come out pretty ready to play. I listen to some pretty calming stuff and I’ve been on a Jimmy Buffett kick recently. I’ll listen to ‘Margaritaville’ before games. I’m pretty laid back, I’m kind of just easy-going and whistling and smiling and ready to have a good time.”

On top of basketball and law school, Rowley said his schedule doesn’t leave him much free time. However, in the rare break, he spends his time catching up with teammates and friends around campus.

“I got a lot of people I have to see,” Rowley said. “I feel like I have friends kind of all over the place now. Going to undergrad here, having friends in the athletic community and then having friends in the law school as well, so I feel like there’s always somebody who I owe a visit to or I have to catch up with.”

Between spending time with friends and teammates, doing homework and playing ball, Rowley has learned the ins and outs of time management. When life gets a little too overwhelming, he takes some time to himself by shooting hoops because he loves the repetition of it.

Rowley said that taking a step back and appreciating everything he has keeps him moving forward and working hard.

“Some days the law school kicks me in the butt,” Rowley said. “Some days I’m just swamped. You know, I leave the house at seven and I get back at midnight, and I try to get a little sleep, and I wake up and do it all again and sometimes those days pile together, but mostly, I mean, I try to get some sleep … I try and drink a big glass of water. I try and take a step back and just kind of realize, I mean some days it’s very stressful, like, yeah I got a full plate, but, again, I’m just, I’m lucky to be in such a fantastic situation, you know, I just try and appreciate it.”

Though he works hard and puts hours into the gym on a daily basis, shooting shot after shot, he said a lot of his success is the culmination of many great people in his life.

“I feel like I have been the benefit of so many great people in so many areas of my life,” Rowley said. “I mean, starting from the fact that I’ve had two parents who have supported and loved me and helped me through this whole thing … I’m so fortunate to have had the support I’ve had, to have the coaches I’ve had, to meet the people I’ve met. I’ve been fortunate to be in such a great situation.”

Next season may be Rowley’s last playing for the Tribe, but anyone who has seen him on the court will know him by his constant smile and endless love for the game.

“I’m known for a big smile, and people talk about they can see my love for the game, and I like to hope that comes through,” Rowley said. “I definitely, I feel very appreciative. I’m very fortunate to be in the situation I am, and I hope that people can see that when I play, and I have a great job, I have a great set up, and I have a lot to be happy about so I’m glad that can show through.”