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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Do walk-ons shower after games in which they have not played? I posed this to James Gaddy, a Georgia Tech guard whose reward for about 20,000 minutes of practice last season was six minutes of game action.
"Of course we shower up after the game," he said a trifle defensively. "We've warmed up harder than anybody."
I met Gaddy last winter on a nationwide walk-on tour, a two-week immersion in the universe of the nonscholarship college basketball player—the guy who discovers after a game that his elbows have left indentations in the flesh above his knees, the guy who speed-reads his team's schedule in the preseason muttering, "Close game. Close game. Blowout—I might play. Close game. Blowout...."
Thereafter, at Gaddy's suggestion, I paid closer attention to my subjects in pregame warmups. Gaddy was right. Walk-ons hustle, make crisp passes and grimly bury their layups. Stars and other starters are more inclined to scope the cheerleaders, case the arena for family and friends, throw down experimental dunks. Most walk-ons would not think of risking a dunk in warmups (on the slim chance that they could dunk). If a walk-on attempts to dunk and fails, or clangs a layup off the front of the rim, he fears that you, the spectator, will think, That guy belongs on the court as much as I do.
Bunk. Walk-ons had sparkling high school careers and enjoy a certain fame in their hometowns. They could be big fish in Division III ponds, could be breaking scoring records, could be swaggering around campus and having beers bought for them. Walk-ons, however, tend to have big dreams and little masochistic streaks. They have opted to become amoebas in the ocean of Division I, to plunge their parents into mammoth hock by playing without a scholarship at a big-name basketball school instead of taking a free ride at a lesser place.
Why? Former Creighton walk-on Porter Moser answers for the fraternity of 600 or so nonscholarship players now taking charges and diving for loose balls in big-time programs across the country. He says, "I didn't want to be some 40-year-old on a bar stool saying, 'Yeah, I could've played Division I ball.' "
But walk-on need not be a synonym for scrub:
•In the summer of 1981, the man destined to become the patron saint of walk-ons, Jeff Hornacek, had just graduated from Lyons Township High in LaGrange, Ill. Hornacek, a 6'4" guard, wanted to attend Cornell, but he fouled up his chances by not applying for admission until July, too late to be considered for the fall semester. After working several months for a paper cup company, Hornacek was invited by Iowa State to give hoops another chance—provided, of course, that he pay his own tuition.
Hornacek enrolled at Iowa State for the spring semester of 1982 and worked out with the Cyclones at point guard. Coach Johnny Orr scared up a scholarship for Hornacek for the fall of '82 and played him sparingly in the early part of the '82-83 season. Then, to shake the Cyclones out of some mid-season doldrums, Orr started Hornacek in a TV game against Oklahoma State. Hornacek played 40 minutes and was named player of the game. "After that he never came out," says Iowa State assistant coach Ric Wesley. Hornacek was elected co-captain his junior and senior years and set Big Eight assists records of 108 for one season and 337 for a career. For the last four seasons he has been the Phoenix Suns' starting shooting guard.
•Freddy Hunter was right under Michigan coach Steve Fisher's nose and would have stayed there, unnoticed, but for Dave Balza. Two summers ago Hunter, a 6'5", 195-pound intramural player who had just finished his sophomore year at Michigan, was toying with opponents at the Gus Macker three-on-three tournament in Ypsilanti, Mich. Balza, a student manager for the Wolverines' basketball team, spotted Hunter and advised him to try out for the varsity.