Former men’s basketball player Paris McCurdy is now Ball State’s director of community diversity initiatives

Paris McCurdy smiles for a photo Feb. 7 at Worthen Arena. McCurdy played four seasons of college basketball, his last two being at Ball State. Andrew Berger, DN
Paris McCurdy smiles for a photo Feb. 7 at Worthen Arena. McCurdy played four seasons of college basketball, his last two being at Ball State. Andrew Berger, DN

Deion Sanders. Bo Jackson. Paris McCurdy. 

What do all these men have in common? They all played in two major American sports leagues. 

McCurdy, a Ball State alumnus, signed to the NFL’s Denver Broncos training camp roster after playing four seasons of college basketball, his last two with the Cardinals. After being cut, he signed with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings in 1991. 

However, McCurdy is probably most remembered for being a leading member of the 1989-90 Ball State men’s basketball team that made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. 

In the first-round contest against Oregon State, led by future NBA Hall of Famer Gary Payton, McCurdy finished an and-one layup at the buzzer to tie the game and sank a free throw to take the lead and win the contest. 

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Senior forward Paris McCurdy gets lifted by teammate Chandler Thompson during a game against Oregon State Mar. 15, 1990 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Ball State men’s basketball won the Mid-America Conference championship in 1990. Ball State Athletics, Photo Provided

After a two-point win against Louisville in the round of 32, the Cardinals reached their first and only Sweet 16 in school history. There, they faced the heavily favored University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) Runnin’ Rebels. Ball State was able to slow down what is considered one of the best offenses in college basketball history, but with a chance to win the game, Ball State turned the ball over on the final play and lost by two points. UNLV went on to win the national championship.

McCurdy credits this period of his life and career for his lifelong bond with Muncie. As a kid from Detroit, he felt welcomed in the city. Now, he’s back at Ball State as the director of community diversity initiatives.

“The excitement that people had for us for what we were accomplishing was special,” McCurdy said. “All the way to this day I still keep in touch with the people I've met along the way. I think that was the biggest piece for me.” 

Former Ball State head men’s basketball coach Dick Hunsaker recalled the historical significance of those late ‘80s and early ‘90s teams and cites the love of basketball as fuel. 

“Basketball was king in Muncie,” Hunsaker said. “Every individual on that team was instrumental in the community's influence and left their mark on the history of Ball State University.” 

McCurdy spent around 14 years playing professional basketball in Spain, France, Australia and the United States before retiring from basketball for good in 2005. He initially wanted to get into coaching, but he never finished his degree. 

His senior year, McCurdy went to the office of one of his professors to inform him that he would have to miss a good amount of classes due to an upcoming lengthy road trip. He asked what he would have to do to make sure he is up to date on his coursework so he stays on track to graduate. 

“You may as well drop my class,” McCurdy remembered the professor responding. “I’ve had your kind before, and you’re not going to pass.” 

After telling his coaches what happened, they told him he had to drop the class, because that professor had no chance of passing him, and there was no way they were going to let McCurdy continue to deal with him. Hunsaker said this is a common occurrence even to this day. 

“People aren't willing to look past whatever bias they might have. Sadly, in the world of sport, we think that it's equal opportunity, but I have seen much prejudice and unfairness and stereotypes throughout my career,” Hunsaker said. “We need to accept people for who they are and put any prejudices behind because diversity is what our world is. We all have our differences.” 

Ball State alumnus Paris McCurdy plays with a ball Feb. 7 at Worthen Arena. McCurdy has been in his role as Ball State’s Director of Community Diversity Initiatives since 2016. Andrew Berger, DN

He further added that McCurdy dealt with the situation as he always had: with maturity.

“He brings people together and listens, whether he'll agree or disagree, [he's] willing to listen to both sides,” Hunsaker said.

McCurdy was always mature beyond his years. When he was 11-years-old, he and his cousins went to a neighborhood park to shoot around. 

His cousins stopped what they were doing to smoke cigarettes they found. To their amusement, McCurdy declined the offer saying, ‘Nah, I’m going to be an athlete.’

He eventually returned to Ball State at the insistence of family and a particular advisor who helped him walk the stage in 2008.

At a summer workout with the Pistons in his hometown of Detroit in the early ‘90s, McCurdy received life-altering advice from NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. During a break, Thomas pulled McCurdy to the side and explained that many professional players will end up blowing their money away and said McCurdy needed to have a stronger mindset. 

“He said, ‘[Paris] if you get a chance to make this money, keep this in mind: It's not about what you got while you're playing. It's about what you got when you finish.’” McCurdy said. “That was my focus from that point on.”

Now, McCurdy looks to pay that advice forward. 

“Everybody's not going to make it to the pros,” he said. “Everybody's not going to go make them big dollars or whatever. You’ve got to start thinking like that now. You’ve got to start thinking about, 'What am I doing four or five years from now? What's going to happen?' [College athletes] need somebody in their ear telling them [something] other than what's happening right now.”

He further added that a lot of people would rather stay in the same spot out of fear of what’s next. 

“[People] want to have an excuse as to why they're not advancing,” McCurdy said.“You can't advance or move forward without being exposed to what's available.”

McCurdy has been in his current role at Ball State since 2016, a position he has happily embraced. 

“One of the biggest things about me, I really like helping elevate other people,” McCurdy said. “I consider myself selfless, because I know how to put myself behind the scenes and help move someone else. It's said that before you can achieve your success, help somebody else achieve theirs, and things just happen for you.” 

In this role, McCurdy acts as a connector between the Muncie and Ball State communities. His office connects the people of the local community with the resources that the university has to offer. 

His main goal is to encourage students on campus to give back to the community in the same way the community supports the school.

“[Ball State] goes to the people in the community to help them on campus and get to the next level to get out into the world to go do whatever they want to do, but you're supposed to bring the community with you,” McCurdy said. “How do we help advance the community at the same time?”

Associate Vice President for Inclusive Excellence Dr. Rashida Willard said McCurdy is excellent at what he does, and he carries the mission the office strives for.

“He cares a lot about the work we're doing. He cares a lot about the community, and I think that's why he's perfect for this role,” Willard said. “He is passionate about connecting the Muncie community to Ball State, especially for those who are underserved and underrepresented in this community.”

Willard explained that the mission of her office is to provide an opportunity for success to everyone and that it should be a task taken on by everybody. However, the job is an uphill battle.

“I think the biggest challenge we face is the external [discourse] for diversity, equity and inclusion,” Willard said. “It can sometimes be demoralizing. It's hard to do the work when you know there's so many people externally against the work. [We] are making sure everybody understands inclusive excellence is everybody's job, and it's not just the job of the Office of Inclusive Excellence.”

After spending nearly 30 years away from Ball State, McCurdy expressed his reason for returning was the leadership changes and overall growth in diversity.

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Junior forward Paris McCurdy goes to shoot the ball against Ohio in 1989. McCurdy was a part of the 1989 men’s basketball team that won the Mid-America Conference championship. Ball State Athletics, Photo Provided

McCurdy frequently visits classes on campus to speak about his life and the importance of community connections, much to the delight of the students who have had the pleasure of meeting him.

“I was here during a time when most of the folks that look like us were just athletes, and I've had a chance to see the university grow over the years in a positive direction. I saw the direction Ball State wanted to go as an institution, and I thought it would be a good fit for me,” McCurdy said. “I was coming to help share my life and be able to help improve other people.”

Contact Derran Cobb with comments at or on Twitter @Derran_cobb.


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