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Of course. Walk-ons are grateful for even the tiniest favors. After the Yellow Jackets won the 1990 ACC tournament, Gaddy, who was not in uniform for the tournament because the games were off the Tech campus, was allowed to descend from the bleachers, climb the ladder and snip a strand of the net. "Good thing they let us cut down both nets," he says, straight-faced. "Otherwise I don't think I'd have gotten a turn."
Walk-ons have no illusions about their importance to the program, as evidenced by this Gaddyism: "I guess you could say I'm a role player on the scout team." The role, embraced by many walk-ons, is defensive specialist in practice. To better prepare a starter for an upcoming game, the walk-on covers him as tenaciously as possible. Coaches love it. For the starter into whose athletic supporter the walk-on is attempting to climb, this tenacity can, over the course of a 3½-month game schedule, get old. Tempers flare. In one afternoon last season Gaddy took four elbows to the face, lost two fillings and suffered a concussion. No one was disciplined.
Walk-ons get minute(s), III: Last January, Cremins emptied his bench during a 78-51 rout of Virginia. Gaddy got in for a minute and was credited with a rebound, a steal and an assist. He refers to the game as his "triple-single."
David Martin has, like Gaddy, eaten more than his share of elbows. At 5'11", 150 pounds, Martin, a Texas A&M junior point guard, is elbow-high to most of his teammates, who refer to him as Baby Dave. With the bounding optimism peculiar to walk-ons, Martin interprets every elbow he eats as a compliment on a job well done. "When I get 'em so mad they lose their cool," he says, "I feel I've accomplished my purpose."
Martin was fourth in his class of 590 at Tyler (Texas) High and earned advance credit for 39 hours of college courses. His classes at A&M have included molecular genetics, quantitative analysis, biochemistry and a 400-level independent research lab. Aside from the usual, quickly forgotten practice rhubarbs, as a walk-on last season Martin got along well with his teammates. But his best friend on the team was the manager, Mike (Radar) Ricke, whom Martin helped to fold laundry and lug the Aggies' baggage to and from the bus. "I didn't do it because it's what walk-ons are expected to do," says Martin. "I did it because it looked like Radar could use some help."
Martin's own baggy uniform makes his head seem disproportionately large, like the cranium of Francis, the sluggish son in the cartoon strip Momma. As a freshman, Martin was so unimposing that no one would choose him in the Aggies' informal preseason pickup games. Former teammate Brooks Thompson admits that at first he mistook Martin for a cross-country runner "or maybe the manager of the cross-country team."
"There were times when I wondered what I'd gotten myself into," says Martin. An aspiring anesthesiologist, Martin had turned down basketball scholarship offers from Northeast Louisiana and St. Louis University to walk on in College Station. He was attracted to A&M by its superior science departments and its medical school. Martin wants to be an anesthesiologist because, he says, "I decided I would like to be involved in medicine without being involved in cutting actual flesh."
This squeamishness did not carry over to basketball. Once official practices began last fall, Martin thrived. First-year coach Kermit Davis Jr. appreciated Martin's pestiferous defense, plus his ability to make plays and take care of the ball. As A&M's disastrous season unfolded—the Aggies would finish 8-21, and Davis would be fired—Martin's fortunes climbed. While languishing on the bench for long stretches at the beginning of the season, Martin forced himself to keep his head in the game. He made suggestions to assistant coaches. Some were heeded, most were ignored.
During timeouts, when the other Aggies formed a semicircular huddle in front of the seated starters, Martin had difficulty hearing what was being said. Worse, he and his bench-warming ilk were seldom able to take part in the concluding ritual of the timeouts, when players and coaches stack their hands and shout, "One-two-three TEAM!" To feel more involved, Martin and two other walk-ons, Mac Brink and Brian Under, started the Fun Bunch, their own three-person auxiliary huddle behind the main huddle.
As the losses mounted, Davis seemed to welcome the chance to talk about one of the few pleasant surprises of his rookie season. "I have never seen a guy as willing to do what he has to do to get his minutes," he said of Martin. Sounding wistful, Davis added, "You wish that some of your guys with a lot more physical ability approached the game with half of the discipline and heart David Martin does."