Home > College Basketball > The Life, Times and Rules of the Walk-On (Part 2)

The Life, Times and Rules of the Walk-On (Part 2)

(If you missed part one from this weekend, CLICK HERE.)

6. Be the funny guy:

That’s it! That’s why Reginald liked me so much.

If you can make your coaches laugh and be the guy on the team who can do impressions of all of your teammates on command, you’ll be impossible to cut. Sure, you’ll sometimes feel like a court jester or a cheap puppet, but getting free shoes and other swag all of the time makes it somewhat worth it. Plus, you can just cry into your pillow every night and it’ll make everything feel all better in the morning.

I figured this out early in my freshman season when I did an impression of a particularly amusing assistant coach.  It was met with rave reviews from the players and coaching staff alike. I may have been asked to do said impression roughly 794 times the rest of the season, and said assistant coach still probably hates me because of it, but it got me in with the big guy, and that’s all that matters. (Hey coach: Driiiiiver’sss license! Haha, you still hate me don’t you?)

It’s no secret, people who are labeled as ‘the funny guy’ are much more likely to be kept around and excused for every day screw-ups that other guys may not get away with.  It is also a well known fact that most media guides and pre-season interviews include this question: “Who is the funniest member of the team?” If you are, in fact, the clown of the team, this is yet another chance for you to get your name in lights, my friend.  This will unquestionably lead to more signed mini-basketballs, more free Kool-Aid, more co-eds, and more eyes on your pre-game and half-time showcases.

(SIDE NOTE: If your team is smart enough to have more than one walk-on, it is rather fun to hold a competition to see who can sign the most autographs in a single season.  This is strictly a walk-on vs. walk-on competition, because if you attempted to challenge a scholly boy you’ll get bitch slapped. I’m pretty sure I defeated Montana Heirman my sophomore year in a closely competitive and nail biting 17 to 14 final tally.  Is it cheap that my final three autographs of the year were actually on a group of children’s programs that I stole out of Jeremy Crouch’s hand? No. This is simply called being in the right place at the right time. Winning isn’t easy kids.)

7. Find your niche on the squad: (The practice squad, that is. Duh.):

It may look like we're celebrating, but I'm actually attempting to fight Will in the middle of the game.

Every finely tuned practice squad consists of a group of individuals with limited talent and one specialty.  My advice to you is to find your specialty and stick to it. Otherwise you might step on another walk-ons toes, and that’s not cool broski.

Your specialty can be anything ranging from the following list:

a. Three-point sniper (97% of all walk-ons. Being white and un-athletic makes you a given for this category. If you can’t shoot, you should most likely play baseball or something.)

b. And-1 Mix Tape Reject (2% of all walk-ons. This will get you booted from drills like Milton Bradley from the Chicago Chubs. Not recommended.)

c. Basketball Knowledge (1% of all walk-ons. This rare breed is like a coach on the floor, very useful during situational drills and for deciphering intense ‘coach-speak.’)

So, what was my specialty, you ask? Fighting…yes, that’s right. Fighting.

I was the practice squad’s version of an enforcer. If I thought that we were getting bullied or overly abused I would step in and take an elbow from any starter and sacrifice my beautiful nose for the sake of the ‘red squad.’ (Proud owner of two in-practice nose explosions: one from Mike Suggs on a breakaway lay-up, which resembled someone spiking a volleyball. I vaguely remember the trainer telling me to get off the floor, but I pulled a Van Damme in Bloodsport and attempted to look cool. The other was dealt out by Marcellus Sommerville during a light practice the night before our game at Northern Iowa during a scrum for a rebound. There was no getting up from that one. I politely rolled to the baseline while somebody cleaned my DNA off of the court. How nice. Being the trooper that I am, I still showed up the next night and provided an epic pre-game performance for the kids of northeast Iowa. It was my MJ in Utah moment.)

Somewhere between my moderately successful high school career and my first college practice I began to confuse basketball for hockey.  Luckily for me, college basketball practices can sometimes blur the lines between physical play and an amateur MMA match. You may wonder how it’s possible to start fighting during practice without pissing off the big guy.  Picking and choosing the right moment to start a brawl is key:

Typical moments:

a. Rebounding drills: These were made for fighting. Especially during practices that followed us getting our asses kicked by some MVC opponent the night before. The big guy would institute the ‘no foul’ rule and all hell would break loose.  Secretly, I hoped for blow-out losses so I could not only receive my token one minute of playing time, but so practices like this would come around on a more regular basis.

One time during a rebounding drill I jumped the back on current Toronto Raptors center (and big-time fan of SOGJ) Patrick O’Bryant piggy-back style, wrestled him to the ground and proceeded to shout “YOU’RE TOO LITTLE!!!!” at him for 2 to 3 minutes. What this did for my career is minuscule, but look at the impact it made on his. You’re welcome POB.

(It’s not uncommon for either of us to now throw out a random “YOU’RE TOO LITTLE!” to one another during conversation.  Why that line even made sense in my head with POB being a legit 7’0″ and me at an agile and sexy 6’2″ is beyond me. The only reasoning I can think of is that I blacked out and flipped some type of switch to ‘super machismo.’ Very similarly to Sly Stallone in the Academy Award winning motion picture, Over the Top.)

(Editor’s Note: I got a message from POB this morning stating that the floor was wet during this struggle and that’s why he went to the deck. I on the other hand, would like to blame it on my Jared Allen rodeo style calf-roping skills…you make the call.)

b. At any point during the month of February:

When February approaches you’ll all be tired of looking at and practicing against each other for the past four months. This is when shit gets really chippy/freaking awesome.

For some odd reason, I was chosen to bring the ball up during full court drills against our starting five my sophomore year. As expected, I was stripped clean by Tony Bennett almost instantly when I crossed half-court. (No, not the old, gray haired crooner. Although I’m fairly certain even he would be able to sit on my syrupy slow cross-over and pick it clean.)  We were late in the second hour of practice and I was tired, so I did what any self-respecting walk-on would do…I wrap tackled his ass right at half-court.  I’ll be damned if this didn’t spark a battle royal between the practice squad and the starters.  I’m proud to say that I was a part of it, as the ‘red squad’ got a little piece of revenge that day…I won’t lie, it felt pretty damn good.

No worries though friends, Tony and I still remain friends and jokes about the incident are brought up every time we run into one another.

Which brings me to my overall point in this whole fighting thing, find something to be remembered for.

I spent three years at BU and I’m remembered for two things:

a. Fighting anyone and everyone. (It was then and has always been looking back on as something that’s extremely funny.  The big guy even told me that it had a way of breathing life into practice sometimes. You’re welcome Bradley. You really are. Another word of advice: your first day of practice, pick a fight with the senior leader of the team. Think of it as prison rules. This is the only way to gain his respect and become accepted as a member of the team. Taking on James Gillingham in practice both scared the living piss out of me, and made him hate me and like me all at the same time. It was weird.)

b. Hitting clutch shots in practice (No joke, my shooting percentage usually hovered around 9%. With the scrimmage or a drill on the line it rose to 98%. Why? I have no idea, but if I had to guess, I would say that it’s because ice water runs through my veins. I earned the nickname ‘Robert Horry’ from Marcellus Sommerville, and he was on the cover of SI once, so I’ll take his word for it.)

This way you have a better chance of being brought up in general conversation about the team, maybe even on the radio or in the rare occasion, even on TV.  Am I proud to be remembered as the crazy white boy who fought everybody? No, but people remember me don’t they? You’re Damn right they do.

8. Always own the latest video gaming system:

This rule may seem like it has nothing to do with being a walk-on, but that’s why you’re the rookie and I’m the experienced veteran. Having the latest and greatest in video gaming technology (and all of the newest games) will turn your apartment or dorm into the hang out for the entire team. (Reminder: This will once again help you possibly get a shout out in the media guide, bringing you more autographs, hunnies, pub, etc…you get it.)

This technique also helps in providing retaliating shots during practice or road trips to deflect from your lack of basketball skill.  If you are able to skip some individual workouts and shooting sessions that the real players are forced to attend, chances are that you’ll have some extra free time to practice your PS3 skills. Don’t waste this time on lifting weights or studying. This can help you build some sort of self confidence throughout the season. Let’s have an example, shall we:

Good Player (after dunking on me): “Hey KJ, how do my nuts taste?”

Me (after being dunked on): “Pretty salty. Just like your Halo skills.”

Rest of team (after watching me being dunked on): “Ohhhhhh! No he didddn’t!”

So just how good does it feel to turn the tables on premier athletes and make them look silly in the digital world? Pretty damn good.

Without any sort of exaggeration at all, I can tell you that the team of Jeremy Crouch and myself won exactly 256 consecutive matches of 2-on-2 Gears of War against all other challengers. (We know the exact number because we kept track on a dry-erase board in my apartment. It was also used to embarrass everyone that I’ve ever beat when they came into my casa.)

It was a streak the legends are made of. It lasted from January 2007-April 2007, and we played for hours a day on a daily basis. Had I stayed at BU the following year I’m fairly certain that I would have been given a special pre-game video or something for the accomplishment, but now we’ll never know.

9. Dominate pre-game and road trip meals:

This is a biggie, because other than two free pairs of Nike’s a month and a few t-shirts here and there, this is the closest you’ll get to a scholarship.  You will go to awesome restaurants all over the country and be given free meals consisting of awesome food. The everyday contributing player cannot indulge on these meals as much as you can. You’re job is to go nuts. You’re also helping the school get its moneys worth for the spread, so you’re actually contributing for once. Way to go, buddy.

Because you have no reason to be worried about what a big meal could do to offset your performance, just cram.  Most players are worried about eating too much before the game while I was busy hitting up the buffet line for thirds and asking the waiter for 8 to-go boxes. Picture Cousin Eddy in National Lampoon’s: Vegas Vacation at the casino buffet…just like that.

(CAUTION!: This habit will be incredibly hard to break once your playing days are over, so use with extreme caution. Three years and forty pounds after my retirement speech at Carver Arena I still fight this bad boy like the plague. Use at your own risk, but it’s totally worth it.)

10. Keep your swag:

The ultra-classy presentation makes it look like I was actually important.

Keeping your swag is the only way that you can intimidate other players in the church league that you’re bound to join once your playing days at the collegiate level are over. The year I spent away from the team as a college dropout may have been the single greatest church league season ever played in the state of Illinois, it was like playing with children.

People will part the lane for you like the Red Sea, not because you’re fast, but because you have your college practice jersey on. This gives the impression that you aren’t to be messed with in the paint. It’s totally a form of false advertisement, and some people may catch on to it sooner or later, but by that time you’ll already have the game in hand.  (Napoleon has nothing on me, I am the master of mental warfare.)

I’m almost more proud of the fact that I led my church league team to a perfect 16-0 record and a church league crown than anything I achieved in college.

(In the championship game my then 48 year old Dad did almost get into a brawl with an 18 year old kid and probably would have continued it outside afterwards had we not calmed him down, wonder where I get it from? Oh yeah, my brother-in-law also got thrown out of a different game for choke-slamming a guy. To cover his ass I went off for about 35 points, you’re welcome Adam. (PS: He’s a devoted SOGJ fan and a stand-up guy. We all get a little hyped on the hardwood sometimes.))

I didn’t have a team manager handy to record my stats for me, but if I had to guestimate I would say that I averaged about 28 pointsand 13 rebounds a game, which reminds me:

TIME TO GET REAL: I may poke fun at the expense of my walk-on brethren and I, but don’t kid yourself, we have some game, just not as much as the freak athletes that take our scholarships from us.  I would often overhear people saying that they were better than me or that they would be a better walk-on than I. These are the people who were also too damn lazy to do anything about it and would rather flap their gums and play beer pong at their frat house than get in the gym. The average walk-on would destroy any rec league player nine times out of ten. We’re smart, we practice on a daily basis and you’re fat. That’s just how it is.

Keeping all of your swag and even mounting your jersey on the wall is crucial.  This is one other place where you will beat the scholarship athlete every time.  Their jerseys are often beat to hell after a full season or two of use and they don’t look anywhere near as good as the walk-on’s jersey does on the wall. Mine is crisp, clean, and free of any DNA or blood from some random opponent who may be in a state penal system. Advantage: walk-on.

In closing, thanks for taking a ride with me down memory lane and listening to my rules for prospective walk-ons in the future. It would be highly recommended for you to follow them for face your own fate, I warned you.  Being a collegiate walk-on isn’t for the weak of heart and I would argue that it takes more of a man to get abused on a daily basis like a rodeo clown that it does to be a high-flying freak of nature.

It was one hell of a ride and I’ll certainly have these memories and many more than I can’t share on a public forum for the rest of my life. Long life the walk-ons and long live Club Trillion and the Trillionaires. GO BRAVES!!!

(SPECIAL THANKS: Mark Titus and his blog Club Trillion for the inspiration to write about my experiences at the end of the Bradley University bench. Visit his blog here.)

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  1. ToPete
    March 4, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    LMAO! This is the best post yet… I don’t even know what to say… So many NIU walk-on memories have come pouring in…

  1. March 1, 2010 at 8:53 pm

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