For James Madison Dukes senior forward RayShawn Goins, playing in this weekend’s Colonial Athletic Association Tournament is not something to be taken lightly. The odds that Goins, a 6-6, 265 pound mammoth in the paint, would even be a Division I basketball player, let alone a key contributor to a program, were never in his favor.
“I faced a lot of adversity growing up,” Goins said. “I grew up in your typical inner-city household with a single mom and six kids. I have two older sisters, an older brother, but I was the first one in my family to go to college.”
Goins grew up in Cleveland, where he says he was a “bad kid”. In a public high school where it’s rumored that many teachers value their paycheck more than the academic success of their students, and with his older siblings not valuing an education, he struggled in the classroom.
He had a 2.4 GPA coming out of high school and, needing a 21 on his ACT to play DI ball at a four-year school, only earned a 19.
“I had to go to Junior College out of high school,” he said. “I had to go the hard route. I went to Columbus State Community College my freshman year. We went to the national JuCo Tournament my that year and I actually made the First Team-All Tournament. But I knew that school wasn’t the place for me.”
He again found himself in a situation that was unhealthy. The quick-footed big man realized he was taking classes to be eligible to play for his JuCo coach, not to work towards transferring to a four-year school. Instead of slacking off in the classroom and misbehaving off the court, the then 19-year-old made what he calls the first truly “mature decision” in his life by transferring to Cincinnati State Community College, a school in the same basketball conference.
“I knew I needed to take my life into my own hands,” he said. “I didn’t have a college counselor. I didn’t have anybody who said, ‘I’ll help you get to Division I.’ I had to work hard by myself to get to where I wanted to be.”
At Cincinnati State, Goins realized he needed to take more rigorous classes to be able to transfer to a Division I school. He was able to transfer to JMU for his junior season, where he became a starting forward.
“Man, it was a relief just as much as it was a dream come true,” he said. “After all the hard work I did in the classroom and on the court, I couldn’t believe it had finally paid off. Dreams do come true. To be able to have a scholarship to play Division I basketball, man, I was paid back with success.”
His appearance on a Division I roster was not the ceiling for his accomplishment. He kicked off his JMU career with a bang, averaging 9.7 points and 6.8 rebounds in 23.3 minutes per game over the course of his junior season. But he suffered yet another setback in his basketball career when a torn labrum in his left shoulder sidelined him for the 2011-2012 season.
“It was kind of a wakeup call,” he said. “I became a student of the game. I had that sickening taste in my mouth not being able to play basketball. I realized I had taken the game for granted a little bit. So I really started studying the game and studying for class as hard as I could.”
As a sociology major, Goins has worked tirelessly to graduate with a degree in May.
“Ray has been a terrific representation of our basketball program,” said JMU head coach Matt Brady. “I’m most proud of his academic endurance. His work ethic has been stellar and I couldn’t be prouder of a young guy to do work so hard to earn a degree.”
Overcoming a tough academic environment is a bunny-slope compared to the mountains he has already climbed throughout his young life.
“The academic requirements at JMU are definitely tough,” he said. “They really care about grades, but it’s an incredible environment. It’s definitely a challenge where you have to do your own part, but the professors and assistants are all so helpful in your efforts as a student.”
With a solid work ethic to his name and a well-recognized game, he has turned himself into one of the most prominent players in all of the CAA. Averaging 12.9 points and 7.4 rebounds this season for Brady, he may have played his way onto an all-conference team. He’s also morphed into a leader on the court and a leader in the basketball community. He’s the perfect example of how a kid can use basketball to escape the projects and tap his potential.
“Every kid that’s younger than me, I tell them that anybody can dribble a basketball but you gotta excel in the classroom first and foremost,” he said. “The biggest thing is to hit the books and get good grades.“
Young basketball players aren’t the only ones taking notice of Goins’ success. His younger siblings have also followed in his footsteps.
“I have a brother who went to college right after I did,” he said. “And I have a sister younger than him who went to college, too. I think I’ve played a huge role in them being successful in life and helping them see the bigger picture.”
When his teammates and coaches will likely call upon him to be a senior leader down in Richmond this weekend, the big man in the middle will be ready to answer the challenge.
“I’m going to play every damn possession like it’s my last,” he said.
Considering that’s how he has been playing every game and living each day, the odds are even more in his favor to be successful.