In recent years, there have been extensive debates over what it means to be a student-athlete. This year, however, three Blue Devils are proving to be a perfect example.

Duke's Fuqua School of Business is home to students from across many disciplines. At 7 a.m., most graduate students are still resting up for a long day of classes and work. But for a distinct few, the day has already begun.

Rebecca Greenwell and Lexie Brown are staples of women’s basketball not just in the ACC, but on the national level as well. This year the Blue Devils will return the highest scoring duo in the ACC in these two stars. But the pair is not alone on the court, nor in the classroom after Duke added prolific rebounder and shot blocker Bego Faz Davalos this past offseason.

When Greenwell, Brown and Davalos enrolled in Fuqua’s Master of Management Studies program, all three left behind their usual undergraduate educational experiences and stepped into a completely unique lifestyle.

“There’s always good practices and bad. I have loved that they could get their work done in the morning like this and then have the rest of the day, so I think they’re handling it very well,” Blue Devils head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “It’s very challenging and much harder than the undergraduate situation, but they’ve worked together on it and I think they’ve adjusted to know what the standard is and I think that they are doing a great job with it.”

In the recent decade, college basketball programs have seen an influx of graduate transfers. If an athlete graduates  and still possesses a year of eligibility, she can decide to transfer to another university to attend a graduate school that fits her career interest without sitting out a year on the court, as undergraduate transfers are required to do. Unfortunately, balancing the "student" component with the "athlete" can be difficult and particularly discouraging for many graduate players.

But Davalos is unlike the majority. Due to Fuqua’s distinguished pedigree, the San Luis Potosi, Mexico, native decided to finish her Fresno State education and graduate in three years in favor of the opportunity to learn from some of academia's finest business scholars. Unlike most college basketball transfers, the educational aspect of her new school may have been an even bigger attraction than the basketball program.

“Oh, it was huge,” Davalos said. “It was definitely something [like] 70 percent, 80 percent of my decision. Fuqua is an incredible school of business and I was really excited to take that challenge.”

The Fresno State transfer said that this fall is the first time that she has taken classes with teammates. In fact, these classes may have started earlier than McCallie would have preferred. Against its best opponent of the team's Italy trip this past summer, Duke was forced to compete without the likes of the intellectual trio, as Fuqua classes were commencing back home in Durham. The Blue Devils lost that game to Celje Basketball Club—a Slovenian professional team featuring former Duke standout Oderah Chidom.

“I wasn’t sure how people would accept me, and being an athlete, if they would think if I’m adequate enough to be there,” Brown said. “They’ve been super supportive, super chill. The professors have been amazing. My classmates have been amazing. We’re working in teams a lot, so I go from one team to another team, so it’s been a really nice transition.”

Having each other through thick and thin has enhanced all three of the Blue Devils’ time this fall. Although the classes are difficult and the exams put the finest details to test, the three Blue Devils have adjusted well to their newfound environment.

"We’ve been struggling a little bit in the grad program. We’ve been getting good grades, though, but it’s been super difficult, probably one of the hardest things that I’ve done academic wise,” Brown said. “But it has made us super close. We study together, we sit together in class. We’ve all made a bunch of friends in the program, which is really cool, and it’s just been a really nice experience.”

The stark contrast from her last academic year as an undergrad to this one is not lost on Greenwell. The environment has shifted, and the structure of a graduate school education is unlike her previous four years in Durham.

“It’s actually a lot different. You don’t see as many people as much—just from the gym back to Fuqua. I’m more involved with the Fuqua students, which is a different Duke experience because most people didn’t go to Duke. They are from all over,” Greenwell said. “There are a lot more diverse people. But I still feel a part of the Duke community, being around the team. It’s just two different experiences for sure.”

Although the classes may be more difficult than last year and the ability to balance exam preparation and game preparation has become another burden, all three players are able to enjoy their classes and succeed together.

“I really enjoy them. They are a lot tougher, more difficult than undergrad, but they are also very practical and relatable to life. They are definitely going to be useful in the future,” Greenwell said. “The professors are great. The students are great. They are all very smart, so it makes the learning a lot easier and a lot more interesting.”

The common theme of togetherness in class also applies to the hardwood. All three know what their teammates have on the agenda when practice ends and class begins. The feeling that they are never alone allows for a safety net and a sense of belonging.

“When we’re in class, it’s basically class only. A lot of the people in the class are kind of in awe of us, which is kind of cool,” Brown said. “The fact that we’re balancing a full basketball schedule and a schedule at Fuqua, so that’s really cool.”

Although Greenwell, Brown and Davalos are easily identifiable in the classroom—particularly  Davalos, who checks in at 6-foot-3—there is another member of the team that is going through the same difficult workload. Student manager Erin Weber arrived at Duke to attend the Fuqua School of Business, but she will walk away with an even greater experience as a manager, a position she also filled during her undergraduate education at Washington State.

“The three of us kind of don’t really talk about basketball when we’re in the classroom and we definitely don’t want to talk about the classroom while we’re on the court, so we keep it pretty separate,” Brown said. “But we have Erin here, [so] sometimes the conversation about assignments or something like that will slip in.

Whether it’s studying for an accounting class or staying accountable to one another on the floor, Greenwell, Brown and Davalos maintain a strong bond. And as the new Fuqua semester is now upon the graduate students, so is a new opportunity outside of their lectures. The trio will look to translate their connectivity from studying late at night to working seamlessly together on the floor as well. Whatever transpires on the court, there will always be these three walking from the gym to class as one.

Though the on-court achievements of this team may be remembered more than the this group's academic interests, for these three Blue Devils, what makes those rewards feel even better is the work that they put in when nobody is watching.

“It’s just really nice to have a person to listen to you, to stay with you, to study with you and struggle with you,” Davalos said. “It’s just the best. Going together is an amazing experience.”

Hank Tucker contributed reporting.