Business and Basketball: Royals and Rowley Make It Happen

Basketball players Sarah Royals ’15 and Sam Rowley ‘15 have three families: biological, athletic and academic. Each student is especially close to mom, dad and siblings. Each has built strong relationships on their respective basketball teams. Each has found a home in the School of Business.

 Basketball, Marketing and Art

Five years ago, UAlbany women’s basketball coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson began building the women’s basketball team that would go on to win the America East title four years in a row and play in four consecutive NCAA championships. Sarah Royals was the first player Coach Abe recruited. Enough said. Royals graduated as UAlbany’s all-time leader in assists and holds the record for most assists in a single season. At the America East championship game this spring, she passed the 1,000 point mark. Royals and her team put in admirable performances at the big dance each year and came thrillingly close to beating their higher seeded rivals in 2013 and again this spring when 4-seed Duke sunk a three-point shot during the final seconds of the game to beat 13-seed UAlbany in a game that Albany dominated.

Royals did not begin her college career as a business major, but in art, with a focus on design. After she was exposed to many fields through UAlbany’s general education requirement, she began to consider a degree in business with an emphasis on marketing. Royals was concerned. Basketball practices are held in the middle of the day and run through fall and spring semesters, making it difficult to schedule classes for one major, two would certainly be a problem, especially because an art degree requires twice as much class time as other majors. She said, “I was not sure that I could fit in the classes but my academic adviser was great.” Royals completed her final six classes this spring while playing.

Basketball, Finance, ITM and Math

Sam Rowley was the not the first Australian to be recruited to play basketball for UAlbany - that was Luke Devlin ’14, and he won’t be the last: His brother Mike completes his sophomore year this spring and behind him is yet another player from the “land down under.” Rowley said that it is hard to get recruited from Australia and that he chose the University at Albany “because they would take me.” But Rowley knew that the UAlbany business program was strong and the basketball team had a solid history. His parents were happy because they knew that UAlbany offers a good academic program.

The University at Albany wanted him for more than his basketball playing ability. Rowley was accepted into the School of Business as a freshman through the Direct Admit program that is by invitation only, offered to top high school students with an interest in business and accounting. If Rowley had remained in Australia he planned to begin a dual degree in commerce and engineering. Here he is earning a dual degree in math and business with concentrations in finance and information technology.

Rowley chose to play basketball in a country in which the biggest sports are rugby (his maternal grandfather played for the New Zealand team), cricket and Australian football (which is nothing like American football nor the futbol known by the rest of the world). Why basketball? Rowley modestly noted, “Because I am tall.” Rowley is certainly skilled in the sport – he topped the 1,000 point mark in January, only the ninth UAlbany player to do so.

Family

Family plays a big role in both students’ lives. Sam’s younger brother Mike plays alongside him on the men’s basketball team. Their parents flew halfway around the world to watch them play this spring.
Royals grew up watching her older sisters play basketball. So when she was age 10 and asked what sport she wanted to focus on, though she also played soccer and ran track, she chose basketball. She said that her father is her biggest advocate: He loves sports and has coached her. Both of her parents traveled to every game from their home in Torrington, Connecticut and her sisters attended most.

What Matters

Besides their families, what is most important to Royals and Rowley is basketball and their teams. Royals’ biggest athletic accomplishment is winning the American East every year she played. She said, “Four rings. Not many people across the country can say that. I contributed for four years. I was never on the bench.”

Rowley feels that his proudest athletic accomplishment was winning the championship this year, but he also points to the midseason, when his fellow Aussie Peter Hooley left the team to be with his cancer-stricken mother. Rowley said, “I lost one of my best players and my co-captain. “ Rowley stepped up to motivate and hold the team together. Though Hooley had been their high scorer, the team enjoyed a 13-game winning streak while he was away.

Royals and Rowley said that faculty and staff made them feel at home in the School of Business. Of Law Area Coordinator and Lecturer Joe Sheehan, Royals said, “Certain professors have an interest and respect of what we are trying to do. It’s nice to have someone in your corner.” Rowley notes that Sheehan was very supportive of the basketball team and himself, taking the time to meet his parents. He enjoyed Sheehan’s law class and also Associate Professor Eliot Rich’s classes in information technology management.

This spring, the basketball playing seniors were honored with the universitywide President’s Awards for Leadership, Rowley with an Outstanding Senior Award and Royals with the Athletes Leadership Award. Rowley was also named the America East Men’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2015. In 2014, Royals also received a Great Dane Award from the university. Both players have been named to the America East All-Academic Team.

What’s Next?

Royals would like to combine her design and marketing skills and is interested in working in athletics. She said, “I’ve worked the last 15 years of my life to get where I am today.” A considerable statement coming from a 22-year-old. While at UAlbany, she was a founding member of the Albany Sports Business Organization for students pursuing careers in sports.

Rowley said, “I am proud of the breadth of my academic career here and proud that I found two areas (business and math) that I do well in.” He has considered playing professional basketball but it doesn’t mesh with his long-term plans. He was able to complete an internship at multi-national management consulting firm, Mckinsey & Company, in Sydney, but would like to work in New York City, for an investment bank or a big four firm.