Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/28/2008 02:55:00 AM
Day 17: The First Walk-On Q&A, With Texas' Ian Mooney
Ian Mooney shoots a jumper in Texas' practice on Thursday at Reliant Stadium.
Jim Sigmon/University of Texas
The Blog's two-season series of player-and-coach (but mostly player) Q&As has featured such luminaries as Roy Hibbert and Rick Majerus, but we've never before interviewed a walk-on. That changed today, as the subject is Texas senior forward Ian Mooney, who shares a name with the former host of WWF's Wrestling Spotlight and, unlike most walk-ons, had three double-digit-minute games this season, averaging 0.3 points on the season. Mooney wears the No. 22 in honor of his late brother, Brendan, and transferred from St. Louis to Texas after one year as a walk-on with the Billikens. Longhorns point guard D.J. Augustin says Mooney "sets the best screens" on the team, and strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright warns onlookers not to dismiss Mooney as unathletic because of his stocky Irish frame. "He might look like he's been drinking for three days, or that he just fell off the potato truck," Wright says of Mooney, "but he can really jump. Seriously, he'll throw down dunks."
We caught up with Mooney in the 'Horns' locker room before their Friday practice:
Luke Winn: You went from being a walk-on as a sophomore, to a scholarship guy last season [when a gap was left by Daniel Gibson leaving early], back to being a walk-on. That's an interesting back-and-forth.
Ian Mooney: I just take what comes my way. I had a scholarship fall in my lap, and now I'm back to just doing what I do, walking on.
LW: Did you earn the full ride last year by harassing Kevin Durant in practice? [Coach Rick Barnes had said that Mooney guarded Durant "better than anyone."]
IM: I think they kind of had some extra [scholarships] lying around last year, but I'm fine with the Durant angle.
LW: And you've already graduated?
IM: I graduated this past summer in corporate communications. It's like communication studies in corporate situations -- doing sales presentations, things like that. And I'm in grad school now, for advertising, which is pretty tough. That's fine, though -- I'd rather do advertising than be taking basket weaving or doing the Leinart plan.
LW: What's the University of Texas equivalent of a ballroom-dancing class?
IM: I took a semester of piano once, and that was my fine-arts credit. I don't know if that was as bad [as ballroom dancing], but our homework was singing in class and practicing our stuff.
LW: You've seen some serious time in a few games this year [against TCU and St. Mary's in January]. How did that come about?
I think coach [Rick Barnes] just kind of got frustrated with some of the guys, and gave me a shot. We were playing against TCU and they had undersized big men, and our guys were having trouble with it. Coach gave me a shot, I did well, and found a couple more minutes the next game, which was cool.
[Note: In order to conduct this interview, Mooney took a break from playing a white-board game with teammates Matt Hill and Damion James that was essentially Pictionary for movie titles. Mooney is the one drawing in the photo below.]
Where did you come up with that game? And which movies did you draw?
IM: I brought it over from high school [at St. Michael's in Austin], but it just started today because we've been bored like crazy. We just needed to pass the time. I did Courage Under Fire -- you see, the lion without the heart from Wizard of Oz, and then the fire? It's supposed be be flip-flopped, but it's there. Then I did Camelot, drawing camels in a parking lot. [He also did Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, with a pot of honey and some small stick figures, and Hill drew Next Friday by using a calendar.]
IM: We first got it started with Guitar Hero. One of the managers brought it in, and then we convinced him to get another guitar -- and then we made him keep the guitars in the lounge, because we were playing it so much. Then Rock Band came along and the next thing you know, we had a band. D.J. is good at drums, because he played in middle school, and Clint [Chapman] is probably the best at guitar. Justin [Mason] is on the mic. He sings the classic rock. Very adequately.
LW: D.J. is pretty well-covered in the press. What doesn't get out there about him?
IM: He jokes a lot, but he knows how to turn it on and off. One second he'll make fun of you, and then be like, "Hi, Mrs. Mooney!" [to your parents]. I don't know how creatively funny he is, but he's very good at either reiterating what you say and making fun of it, or changing what you say. That and calling you out. Anytime you get a new haircut, he'll be the first one to say it's ugly. Or if you show up wearing, like a polo shirt, and look pretty preppy, he'll call you out.
LW: Who pulls most of the pranks?
IM: Well, D.J. just threw a cup of water in Dex's [Dexter Pittman's] face right before film yesterday. And Harrison likes to hide under the table [pointing to a locker-room table with a tablecloth that hangs down to the floor] and grab people's legs as they walk by. Beyond that ... there aren't a ton.
LW: Since you're always guarding them in practice, what has it been like to see Connor Atchley and Damion James kind of blossom into big-time players this year?
IM: The main thing that happened with Connor is, he realized that he had to do it, first of all -- that the team had to have him come a long way and be good this year. Once he started gaining confidence, the players started giving him the confidence back, and he realized that he always had the skill set. That's why he got recruited. Once he figured out that he didn't necessarily have to be huge, strength-wise, to play well, he did it.
For Damion, I just think he fits more comfortably this year. Last season coach had him running the three or four every other game, and now he's kind of locked up in the four at the beginning of every game, and transitioning out of it. The game isn't as fast for him anymore, and he understands it better. That, and for a lot of these guys, there's a lot less frustration in their second year on defense. Coach would always ride us about our defense last year, and now that we have a solid team foundation on defense, no one is as frustrated, and you can focus on other aspects of your game.
LW: Being the only grad student, are you like a grandfather figure on the team sometimes?
IM: Sometimes I am the elder, I get up on my hickory stump every once in a while, and do my rants and raves. But I'm also the go-to-guy, like the encyclopedia when the guys need random information. We'll be on the road and they'll be like, 'Mooney, what's over there? Or, what's the capital of Denver?'
[While Mooney is laughing about accidentally saying 'The capital of Denver,' teammate J.D. Lewis chimes in with a story about abusing their sage status to trick Pittman into believing that the Hollywood sign was in New York. While playing in New Jersey for the Legends Classic, they told him he had just missed the sign from the bus, and Pittman said, "I see it! I see it!"]
LW: You've been to more NCAA tournaments than anyone in here. Does the experience change every time?
IM: This will be my third, and every time it's different because as you get older, you better understand what's at stake. Now, every game could technically be my last game ever. It's weird to think about that.
[Lewis interjects to say, "No way, dude. There's the YMCA."]
IM: Yeah, there is the YMCA. I have one year of school left, and I'm from Austin, so I'll be staying there and chilling. And dominating the rec leagues.
LW: You won't have coach Barnes riding you in rec-league games. What are his rants like this year?
IM: He goes on kicks where he'll try to be funny, to call out guys in the middle of film with some kind of punchline. He'll pause the tape sometimes and just be like, "Wow, Mooney, you're really athletic." Or the other day in practice, he was talking about something [negative] and just said, "That would be like Mooney running the point." He'll be acting really serious, and then drop in a jab, and you'll be like, "Is that a joke? What's going on here, coach?"
LW: What would it be like, if you actually ran the point?