Bahn: Former Razorback Jonathon Modica Earns Doctorate, Provides Inspiration For Athletes

Athletic careers rarely end on the athlete’s terms.

It’s not often a basketball player, for example, will hang up the high tops before injury or diminishing skills force retirement upon him. Athletes find their worth in competition and often struggle to see purpose beyond their athletic accomplishments.

Which makes what Dr. Jonathon Modica has accomplished even more noteworthy.

Yes. You’re reading that right. Dr. Jonathon Modica.

Modica, the 12th leading scorer in Arkansas basketball history, participated in commencement exercises at the University of Arkansas on Saturday. He earned a doctorate in higher education from the College of Education and Health Professions.

Essentially, Modica was done with basketball before it was done with him. He could have followed the path many of his contemporaries, toiling in a minor professional league somewhere until long after his skills had eroded.

Instead, Modica focused on education and developing a real career. It’s something he knew would serve him long after his playing days ended.

Securing a doctorate has allowed the Smackover native to do that.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Modica said. “I am so thankful for the opportunity to continue my education, get a doctoral degree. And the fact it’s from the University of Arkansas means so much to me.”

Modica didn’t just complete his coursework and dissertation. Like he did as a player, Modica approached his pursuit of a doctorate with passion and hard work. His dissertation on the “perceptions of career advancement of African-American research university faculty” was recognized nationally and gained some attention on campus thanks to a review committee that included Chancellor Dave Gearhart.

Gearhart makes it his goal to be part of a handful of review committees each year, but has to be selective with this time. He said he had no reservations about helping Modica, who came to the chancellor and expressed higher education aspirations shortly after beginning work on his master’s in journalism.

“We started talking with each other off and on, he would keep me up to date,” Gearhart sad. “He did it all with that incredible smile he has. He’s a great guy, a great athlete and academic. He’s the total package. He is just an incredible person in every way. I can’t tell you how much admiration I have for him.”

Admiration for Modica is widespread on the Arkansas campus. What he’s accomplished is highly regarded in athletic and academic circles.

Shortly after his final college game Modica realized his basketball career was over. It was — and this is a rarity for a lot of athletes — purely his choice. Modica probably had five or 10 more years of basketball ahead of him in Europe if he chose that path, but he decided to stop playing and focus on his academic career.

Modica is an inspiration. He is the reason you shouldn’t roll your eyes when somebody brings up the term “student-athlete.” That notion doesn’t just exist in a conference room. It’s not limited to minor and non-revenue-producing sports.

Athletic Director Jeff Long wasn’t on campus when Modica played. But Long is aware of what Modica has accomplished and what a great ambassador Modica can be for the University of Arkansas.

“We need more Jonathon Modica’s to come through our program,” Long said. “We need more young people who accept the challenge to be great at both athletics and academics. He’s a great example. He wasn’t satisfied and kept trying to achieve more. … He could have banged around in Europe for a few years, made a little money. Then what? He chose to further himself and set himself up for a career.”

Modica, of course, didn’t begin the process for admiration or public recognition. He got enough of that through basketball and his pursuit of learning, the process of getting a doctorate was purely about education. Now Modica turns his attention to finding a job. He wants to work in a university setting in development and fundraising. Gearhart expressed a hope in the UA keeping Modica around, an option the former Razorback star would be happy to do.

“It feels good to have reached this point and time in my life,” Modica said. “It means so much to me because of the love that I have for the University of Arkansas. I didn’t do any of this for attention.”

Providing inspiration is something Modica is happy to do, though. He hopes that others will see the end of an athletic career is just the beginning.