Quincy Diggs wondered how it had come to this.
The University of Akron guard/forward stood on a 12-foot ladder, trying to survive his first day of work on the graveyard shift for a lighting company. He was in Detroit, his first stop with a crew that traveled the East Coast, out of touch with his Zips coaches.
Suspended by UA for the 2012-13 school year after an altercation with his girlfriend was deemed a violation of the code of student conduct, Diggs, the reigning Mid-American Conference Sixth Man of the Year, was forced to look for a job to pay his bills. He found a position as a “technical grounder,” building casings and hanging fixtures for Cuyahoga Falls-based Illumetek.
Diggs’ new team would arrive at a retail business just before the store closed and hustle to get the installation finished and cleanup complete before it opened. Projects took him to New York City and Massachusetts, where he saw the Basketball Hall of Fame.
He said he was shocked twice, jolted by 270 volts, but quickly yanked his hand away before he was knocked off the ladder.
“Twelve feet was pretty high. It was dangerous sometimes, but I got through it,” he said.
And that was only half of it.
Diggs was barred from attending UA or its satellites and forced to come up with his own tuition, which parents Ivan and Catherine Diggs paid. Diggs took 19 credit hours online at American Public University. With assignments due every Tuesday and tests on Saturday, he said at times he stayed up 22 hours.
With his shift from 9 p.m. until 9 a.m., he had to adjust to sleeping during the day. He worked three-week stints with a week off in between. With no time to lift weights, he lost 20 pounds of muscle. He bought a membership at the Akron YMCA and played in open gym, but never called any of his UA teammates to shoot with him because he didn’t want them to worry about what he was doing.
Perhaps there was a little bit of embarrassment, too, even though Diggs and many involved in the program believe the university’s reaction and its requirements for his reinstatement, which included psychiatric evaluation, went too far. He was never charged in the incident.
But Diggs’ story isn’t about the mistake that nearly cost him his athletic career and could have sent his life spiraling downward, but how he fought to save himself and his basketball future.
It’s about more than Diggs playing again this season for the Zips, with coach Keith Dambrot experimenting with him at point guard because it might enhance his pro credentials. The weekend of Dec. 14, Diggs graduated with a degree in sports management. On Jan. 13, he will start nine hours of graduate work.
Now 23, Diggs is trying to get past the anger of what he gave up, including a trip to the NCAA Tournament last season, and focus on what he gained from his year in exile.
He even changed his jersey number from 22 to 13 to remind himself of Sept. 13, 2012, the day he was suspended.
“That’s when I got hit hard in life and I didn’t know how to react,” he said.
But that’s not exactly true. At first he didn’t. He said he spent lonely, emotional nights wondering what he would do without basketball. Then three months in, he decided to pull himself together.
“My son was very depressed. A lot of times he wanted to give up,” Catherine Diggs said by phone from Texas, where she coaches girls basketball and track at Armstrong Middle School in Plano. “It was very difficult for everybody. Quincy grew up in the church, he’s a Sunday school kid. He knew what God could do for him if he just held on.”
Somehow Diggs held on.
Catherine Diggs wanted him to come home. That’s where Diggs thought he was headed when he received word of his suspension. He considered starting over again somewhere else, with Dambrot checking out his options. Diggs had left the University of New Orleans after his freshman year when it dropped to Division III; Dambrot said UA had been fortunate to get him.
But Diggs said he decided to stay in Akron because of the support he received from the Zips coaches, a backer of the program and his mother.
His parents didn’t argue his choice but told him he would have to pay his own rent. That led him to Illumetek, which installed new lighting in the Rhodes Arena lobby. The woman who interviewed him there didn’t know he was a basketball player, although she noticed that Diggs, 6-foot-6, is extremely tall.
“The guys told me, ‘The first couple jobs are going to be tough,’ ” Diggs said in an interview before practice Dec. 17. “The first day was an eye-opener. I didn’t think I was going to make it. The store closed at 9, we had to get straight to building. I was looking at myself like, ‘What am I doing here?’ In the back of my head I said, ‘I’ve got to do this to get back to Akron basketball.’
“I definitely had the quitting mindset some of the days on the road. But then I would look at my phone or the photos and hear about what the Zips were doing and would say, ‘I’ve got to get back. I’ve got to get back.’ ”
There was also the daunting academic hurdle. Anne Jorgensen, UA’s associate athletics director for student-athlete academic services, told Diggs he would need at least 18 credit hours to fulfill the NCAA’s 6-6-18 rule. (As she explained, athletes must pass six credit hours in the fall semester to play in the spring and pass six in the spring to play in the fall. Between fall and spring they must pass 18 hours.)
With help from administrators in the sports management department, UA forwarded course descriptions to American Public University. Catherine Diggs said she spoke to Jorgensen two to three times a month to make sure the work her son was doing online would transfer. Catherine Diggs said Diggs was also fortunate that the wife of a member of his lighting crew was a teacher who offered to tutor him.
“I counted that as a blessing. After everything that happened, it seemed like God was putting people in place to help him out,” Catherine Diggs said.
When Diggs was reinstated, Dambrot said he wasn’t sure he should take him back. But then Dambrot thought about his late mother, Faye, a psychology professor at UA for more than 20 years.
“That’s the only way I can get myself in trouble, stick my neck out…,” Dambrot said of his initial reaction. “When [St. Vincent-St. Mary] hired me, when Mike Thomas hired me here, they stuck their neck out for me, too. If I didn’t, if my mother thought I turned my back on a kid who had a really good chance of making it, she would be upset with me. That’s why I do what I do.
“I believe in my heart of hearts the kid will finish it the right way. That’s why I brought him back.”
Jorgensen said Diggs “is like a whole different person now.” Catherine Diggs said on the day the university allowed him back, Diggs went straight to the court at Rhodes Arena.
“KD has a big heart,” Diggs said of Dambrot. “He understood what happened; he knows the truth. Yes, he gave me a second chance, but I think I deserved it.”
Dambrot said Diggs volunteered to come off the bench, just as he had in 2011-12. As Diggs works himself back into shape, Dambrot puts up with Diggs’ out-of-control errors because of the flashes of dazzling athleticism that might follow.
“I know he’s happy,” Catherine Diggs said. “I’m so happy he didn’t give up. He could have turned to anything else. He could have dropped out. I am so thankful coach Dambrot gave my son another chance.”
But Diggs wasn’t handed everything he received. He endured long nights on a 12-foot ladder, followed by bleary-eyed mornings in front of a computer.
“My path has been crazy,” Diggs said. “I just hope it ends the way I want it to end.
“I feel like this is my time. I’m still trying to figure out why this all happened, but I’m going to compete and reach my goals. I know adversity is going to hit again. But I’ll definitely be ready this time.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.