Life after Marist can be an intimidating prospect for any student, but especially for student-athletes that are facing the end of their athletic careers. However, former Marist basketball forward Connor McClenaghan is extending both his academic and athletic life by taking advantage of an opportunity to earn a master’s degree overseas, while continuing to play competitive basketball.
“It’s given me a lot of hope,” McClenaghan said. “Making all of these connections made me realize that they all have real jobs. It was definitely a wake-up call that life is starting.”
Sport Changes Life is a charity and nonprofit that works in disadvantaged communities to help young people raise their aspirations. The Victory Scholar Program invites graduating students to come to Northern Ireland and Ireland to earn their degrees, get the appropriate experience through their overseas internships and to be able to play the sport they love. Meanwhile, the victory scholars work with the program to help young people achieve their goals throughout Ireland.
“We were at a team basketball barbecue at the beginning of the year,” McClenaghan said. “All of the boosters show up, regular season ticket holders and people like that. My mom introduced me to a Marist alumnus who knew about Sport Changes Life and he said I’d be a great candidate for the program. In the second semester, he came back and helped me get fully into it.”
Averaging two points and playing around nine minutes per game, he played a filling role down low throughout his career at Marist. Basketball has always been his first love and is something he has enjoyed his entire life. Now, he’s seeing things come to fruition.
“I’ve been playing since I was six and I’ve always dreamed of being a professional player,” said the six-foot-nine forward. “After my collegiate career, I’m finally seeing an opportunity unfold for me to follow my dream.”
Through Sport Changes Life, McClenaghan will receive his master’s degree in science and marketing at the Institute of Technology at Sligo, where he plays for the school’s club team and for the EJ Sligo All-Stars in the National League, a semi-professional league in Ireland. Sligo, a small town in the north of Ireland, is where McClenaghan and many other students reside during the program.
“Sligo is gorgeous. I also love that I get to travel. I actually drove around earlier today just to get some pictures of cliffs, mountain ranges, and ocean views.”
Sport Changes Life allows players to not only get a degree on scholarship, but puts them on a team for their collegiate sport. The 10-month program focuses on returning the students to the United States as leaders of their communities and ambassadors for the program.
The program, however, is competitive. The process for McClenaghan to get to where he is today was lengthy. “Getting into the Victory Scholar Program is a hard thing to do, and they’re pretty thorough about who they choose to come in,” he explained.
Additionally, the program hosts the annual college basketball Belfast Classic. The tournament features teams from throughout the U.S. that come and play in Northern Ireland. The main focus of the tournament is the promotion of the overseas program that many student-athletes like McClenaghan are taking part in. Marist competed in the Belfast Classic earlier this season, going on to win the tournament after beating Dartmouth and LIU-Brooklyn on their way to grasping the title.
Plenty of student athletes bring their unique journeys to the table in Ireland. The former Red Fox mentions how it’s been one of his favorite aspects of his journey overseas so far. “Every single person here is really cool. They all do their own thing. They can be individual, but they’re all social at the same time,” he said. “They have pretty unique backgrounds and an interesting reason as to why they want to be here.”
Sport Changes Life embodies the “aiding of transition to life after college sports.” It is something that scares student athletes since they have such difficulties getting internships with such a compact schedule.
“When I first got to Marist, my mindset was, ‘I’m going to work my butt off playing basketball and pass my classes,’” McClenaghan explained. “It was hard for me to look into internships at the time because I just didn’t have the time, or care enough. It didn’t make any sense for me to go get an internship along with having workouts and practice going on as well.”
McClenaghan is set to finish his studies in May. Studying marketing during his time in Sligo, he is planning for his future in basketball and wants to make sure that others get to enjoy a similar experience themselves after their collegiate careers.
“Playing professionally is my dream and I’m already achieving some of that here. The really cool thing for me is that I get to keep playing and continue my studies.”
Edited by Lily Caffrey-Levine and David Salamone