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HAMMOCK: Norcross grad Meeks fulfills promise with college degree

Los Angeles Lakers guard Jodie Meeks (10) acknowledges Steve Nash (10) after Meeks scored during the season. The former Norcross and Kentucky standout will graduate from Kentucky on May 10. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Los Angeles Lakers guard Jodie Meeks (10) acknowledges Steve Nash (10) after Meeks scored during the season. The former Norcross and Kentucky standout will graduate from Kentucky on May 10. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Jodie Meeks isn’t the one-and-done Kentucky player we’ve read so much about during the current John Calipari tenure.

The Norcross grad, on the team pre-Calipari, took advantage of three good years at Kentucky and unlike some top basketball players, he didn’t use college just as a springboard to the NBA. He got most of the work done on a marketing degree and even as he left one year early for the draft, he vowed to his parents that he would finish his degree.

A good student from a family that stresses academics, Meeks is about to fulfill that promise with his May 10 graduation from Kentucky.

“I left school early after my junior year and I told my parents I would go back,” said Meeks, in town this week for his sister Kolby’s recognition at the Gwinnett County Public Schools Outstanding Senior Athlete Banquet. “I was only six credits short when I left school. I felt like I was so close I wanted to do it for myself, too.”

The 26-year-old finished up his remaining classes at Kentucky during summer breaks from the NBA, refusing to let one dream and busy schedule stand in the way of the other.

The diploma is nice, but another important piece of paper will await Meeks’ signature this NBA offseason.

It’s free agency time for Meeks and he stands to cash in much more than his first round of free agency, when the Los Angeles Lakers signed him to a two-year, $3.05 million contract in 2012. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard’s scoring ability and 3-point shot should drum up considerable interest in the coming months.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s coming off his best pro season, either.

“It was a blessing to have a good year in a contract year,” said Meeks, a second-round pick of the Milwaukee Bucks in 2009 before being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. “Obviously, I wish the team could have done better but it was a good year for me. I got a chance to show what I can do more because we had a lot of injuries. I got a lot of playing time so I could show what I can do.”

Kobe Bryant was out most of the season and the Lakers struggled with health issues overall, going a miserable 27-55 and missing the playoffs. It was a grind, but Meeks did his job well.

He averaged a career-best 15.7 points, including a career-high 42-point game vs. the Thunder, and made 40.1 percent of his 3-point shots.

His scoring average jumped considerably from his first season with the Lakers — when he averaged 7.9 points — and he flashed the scoring ability he showed at Kentucky. While a Wildcat, Meeks led the SEC in scoring (23.7) and had games of 54 (a UK record), 46 and 45 points.

It’s the kind of scoring that should open some options with several NBA teams.

“It’s kind of a weird feeling because I’m not sure where I’m going to play next year,” Meeks said. “But it’s a good feeling to have. I feel like I’ve done what I’ve needed to on the court. It’s just a matter of waiting for everything to fall into place.”

As for potential destinations, he said it’s too early to tell.

“Any place that’s in the NBA is good with me,” Meeks said. “I just feel fortunate to be able to play. We’ll have to see how things work out.”

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.