Naturally, the Bluejays teased Dennis about not being half the player his sister is, Halligan was an easy mark to begin with: He lived with Kathy in an off-campus apartment, and his nickname, as listed in the media guide, was Den-Den. He didn't party much with the team, and he didn't like beer. When Creighton was in Chicago for a game early last season, some of the Bluejays gathered in one of the team's hotel rooms to critique the soft pornography available on the pay-TV channels. Halligan wandered in, glanced at the television and, mortified, bolted from the room. His teammates still laugh about it.
It is impossible to tell by looking at Halligan, a polite, religious sort, that he is playing out the gamble of his life at Creighton. As a senior at West Sioux Community High in Hawarden, Iowa, Halligan was more of a running star than a basketball star. As a senior he won the state championship in cross-country and, on the track, the mile and two miles. When Iowa offered him a track scholarship, Halligan and his father, Steve, drove six hours to visit the campus. Steve, who had been Dennis's track coach in high school, fell in love with Iowa. "We'll have him running from January 1 to December 31," the cross-country coach cheerfully assured Steve.
On the drive home Steve gushed about the Iowa program, its campus and Denny's future in track and field. Denny kept to himself. "All I could think about was basketball," he says.
A few days later Dennis broke the news to his father: He liked running, but he loved basketball. He decided to walk on at Creighton, betting that he could eventually earn a full scholarship.
It was as if he had decided to become invisible. Let's just say that as Division I shooting guards go, Halligan is a hell of a two-miler. By the end of last January he had seen action in only three games, never for more than a minute.
Walk-ons get minute(s), V: A whopping 3:07 remained in the Bluejays' game against Illinois State in January when Barone sent Halligan in for Darin Plautz. Halligan eagerly checked in at the scorer's table but then had to endure Walk-on Hell: 82 seconds without a single stoppage of play—no fouls, no timeouts, no turnovers. The radio play-by-play guys were thanking their engineers, people were flocking out of Omaha Civic Auditorium, and Halligan was not-so-quietly losing his mind.
"Somebody foul!" he shouted. "Somebody double dribble! Somebody please do something!"
Harstad finally bounced the ball off his foot and out of bounds. Halligan went in with 1:45 to play, still plenty of time to show Barone a little something. Halligan was playing nice, tight defense, covering the Redbirds' Todd Wemhoener like ugly on a gorilla—but Wemhoener stuck a jumper with Halligan right in his face. Dumb luck. Moments later the Bluejays' Derek Bain, also a freshman, led a three-on-two break with Halligan wide open on Bain's right wing. An assist, however, held no fascination for Bain: He took the rock to the rack, blew the shot and picked up a charging foul. On Creighton's next possession Bain unapologetically jacked up a 28-foot air ball. Time expired before Halligan could touch the ball.
The debacle only strengthened Halligan's resolve. "I'm not an ingrate, but I am hungry," he said. "I want a scholarship. It's like my grandparents say, 'Good things come to those who work hard.' "