From the classroom to the hardwood—and now to the airport runways of his yearlong Watson Fellowship —Chris Clunie ’06 never gives less than his best effort.
He remembers one day spring semester 2006, when all those best efforts paid off for him his final season at Davidson. As the senior forward and Terry Leadership Scholar laced up his ankle supports that day in the Alvarez College Union before the team's final home practice and its trip to the NCAA Tournament in Dayton, Ohio, to face Ohio State, he said: “The team is going to the tournament, Friday is my twenty-second birthday, and yesterday I found out I won the Watson Fellowship!”
Clunie was among fifty seniors nationwide who won the prestigious, $25,000 Watson Fellowship, which finances a year of study abroad. Student proposals an interview process, and faculty recommendations contribute to the competition.
Clunie, a political science major with a Spanish minor, won his fellowship with a proposal to study basketball as an agent for social change around the world. He began his year abroad in Japan, where he played in a hoops tournament in a Kawasaki nightclub, and met Kobe Bryant on a Nike tour in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo. His Watson plans also include going to South Africa to coach in the “Playing for Peace” organization, to Argentina, and to Italy to study the “Basketball Without Borders” program.
“If I didn't really believe basketball can be a force for positive change in the world, I wouldn't have put the time into this proposal,” says Chris.
That conviction springs in part from the game's effect on Clunie's own life. Growing up in Bel Aire, Md., he played on a predominantly white youth league team that often faced all-black inner city teams from Baltimore. “There was always a hint of racial tension,” he recalled, “but the game ultimately worked to bring kids of different backgrounds and ethnicities together.”
The game has also helped him grow in character, and think beyond his own needs. He was a top player on his high school team, a three-time Baltimore Catholic League All-Conference performer who scored more than 1,400 points in his four seasons. He was named Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A-Conference performer in 2001. But he has spent most of his Davidson career sitting far down the bench. He admitted, “I love the game so much, and everyone wants to play. It's been tough sitting on the sideline.”
His Davidson experience has provided many rich opportunities to explore the highs and lows of the game that has helped define his life. He has felt the heat of Duke's Cameron Crazies, and played against top national teams like UNC and Georgetown. He also played on the international stage against the Italian national team and Slovenian teams during the Davidson team's overseas trip the summer before his senior year. Finally, he has shared unforgettable moments of victory and defeat with his six fellow seniors on a team that has bound them in lifetime friendship.
All the exhausting practices, time spent on the bench exhorting and encouraging the starters, and always being ready for the few minutes when the coach called his number paid off with the team's shot at glory in the NCAA Tournament.
“This was closest I've been to championship basketball,” he said. “I may have won a championship in basketball camp, but my high school team struggled in a tough league. Being able to win an NCAA spot as convincingly as we did in the Southern Conference Tournament is amazing.”
Though he harbors some hope of playing for a while in Europe, he wouldn't be surprised if the NCAA Tournament signaled the end of his involvement with the competitive game. Eventually he hopes to enroll in graduate school in international studies or business.
For the moment, though he's not looking back on a career past; he's enjoying fortunate opportunity of taking his game, thanks to the Watson Fellowship, around the world.
“This project offers me an unbelievable opportunity to understand the game that I love so much in a new light. I believe that most of its influence as a force for change occurs away from the court, and I intend to see just how far it goes.”