Monday, January 18, 2010

If The Shoe Fits

One cool thing about being a walk-on for a high caliber college basketball team is that my responsibilities aren’t exactly defined.  Sure we have team rules that I have to abide by (not bringing guns into our locker room being one), but some of the other rules aren’t really enforced for the benchwarmers.  This was particularly awesome during optional offseason workouts when scholarship players felt an obligation to go but I occasionally skipped because it’s not like I’m going to lose any playing time or anything.  Every now and then one of the coaches would say something to me about skipping, but for the most part they understood that because I’m paying my own way through college, it’s not a huge deal if I skip a few workouts so I can make some money bagging groceries at my neighborhood supermarket.  Sure I used the off time to go golfing and never actually did any grocery bagging, but the coaches don’t have to know that.

But then there are times that having an undefined role on the team is more frustrating than trying to turn a door knob with lotion on your hands.  On any given day at practice, I could be asked to play defense for two hours straight, let David Lighty continuously hit me with cheap shots, or have a conversation with Evan “The Villain” Turner (hard to say which one is the worst).  During most practices, I basically just stay out of the way until we start doing shooting drills, but sometimes I’m called upon to do the dirty work.  In a way, I’m like a doctor who’s on call, only instead of being interrupted to revive someone who’s gone into cardiac arrest, I’m interrupted to be David Lighty’s punching bag and watch as The Villain blames everything that goes wrong on me.  As badly as these duties may suck, I really don’t mind them that much because they seem like things that a walk-on should anticipate having to do at some point during their career.  It’s not as if these things I have to do are as crazy as, say, giving my shoes to William Buford hours before a game starts because he forgot to pack his own shoes.

In case you missed it, we came back to beat Purdue on their home court this past Tuesday in a game that was as entertaining as I’ve ever seen.  For me, though, the entertainment started during our morning shoot-around when Will Buford approached me and asked very politely if he could use my shoes by saying something along the lines of, “Hey bro, I forgot my shoes.”  I responded with, “Man, that blows” which apparently wasn’t the response he was looking for.  After figuring out that his way of asking for my shoes was telling me that he didn’t have his, I gave Will my shoes and proceeded to wear running shoes during our shoot-around (anyone who’s ever played basketball in running shoes knows my pain).  Even though my shoot-around performance looked pretty sloppy, thanks to my surprisingly durable ankles I twice survived my shoe coming halfway off.  It’s just too bad my durable ankles couldn’t do anything to help get me a pair of basketball shoes for the game later that night.

Luckily for me, because my hometown is only 45 minutes away from Purdue’s campus, my brother and dad were able to bring me an old pair of basketball shoes an hour before tip-off.  The only problem is that the shoes they brought me were the pair I wore during our Final Four run in 2007 that are known as the “LeBron Holy Crap These Are Heavy IV” model in the shoe collecting world.  Each of the shoes weighs over two pounds, which would be awesome if I was The Mongolian Stomper and I wasn’t a slow, white guy trying to do a half-dunk in the layup line before the game.  (The only reason I wore them during the 2007 season was because I was a freshman and they were the only Ohio State shoes I had at the time, so I kind of had to.)  I was certainly not going to wear my running shoes, though, so I was stuck with having to wear what are essentially bricks with shoelaces.  Not that it really mattered what I wore while sitting on the bench, of course.

While I was busy complaining to everyone around me about something that ultimately didn’t matter one bit, Will was playing pretty well with my shoes on.  He finished the game with 19 points, which wasn’t much of a surprise considering he literally put himself in my shoes.  I would say that the scenario was a lot like the plot from Like Mike, but I’m reluctant to make that comparison, not so much because the shoes didn’t infuse my talent into Will, but more because I’m ashamed to admit that I saw Like Mike.  Whatever the case, I can’t help but take a little bit of credit for Will’s performance.

In most programs across the country, a walk-on’s role depends on a variety of factors ranging from the number of players on the team to the philosophies of the coaching staff.  Most walk-ons are on the team just to raise the GPA and really do nothing of importance on the court.  But then there are the stories of walk-ons who surprisingly play a significant role in the team’s success.  Jarvis Varnado of Mississippi State is his team’s best player, but is technically a walk-on after he gave up his scholarship because the team had more players who were promised scholarships than there were scholarships available.  Justin Thomas of Syracuse was thrown into the fire last year in that classic six overtime thriller against UConn because most of the guys in the regular rotation had fouled out.  Skylar McBee of Tennessee (that’s fun to say out loud) is a walk-on who made a game-clinching three as the shot clock ran out against top-ranked Kansas on January 10th and could probably run for mayor of Knoxville because of it (let’s hope he doesn’t run against Lane Kiffin, though, cause I heard he’s pretty popular in Knoxville these days). 

As for me?  I make my contributions by trading game shorts with Jon Diebler and letting Will Buford use my shoes because he remembered to pack his Martin DVDs and his box of Fruit Gushers, but somehow couldn’t remember to pack his game shoes.  Sure I don’t have as glamorous of a role as the aforementioned walk-ons have, but you know what?  If there were a Selflessness Hall of Fame for Walk-ons (and let’s be honest, there should be), I’m fairly certain that I’d be a “shoe”-in. ___________________________________________________

We’ve played three games since I last updated the one armed embrace counter.  Our first game at Minnesota produced two embraces.  One was from Minnesota’s DOBO, Joe Esposito, who I gave a shout-out to last year for being a follower of the blog.  The other was from Blake Hoffarber, who lit us up for 27 points and admitted in the handshake line that he reads my blog.  Getting embraces from both of these guys is a pretty big deal considering they both have Wikipedia pages and as far as I know, I still don’t.

Our second game at Purdue produced three embraces.  One was from former Purdue player (and former receiver of a shout-out on this blog) and current graduate assistant for the Boilermakers, Bobby Riddell.  Another came from Chris Kramer, who is likely to be the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year this year.  The third came from Robbie Hummel, who put on the most impressive shooting display I’ve ever seen in my life during the first half of our game.  His embrace was accompanied by a comment about my blog, which is awesome considering that he’s probably going to be first team all-conference this season at the very least.  Clearly, I’m getting embraces from some very notable figures in the Big Ten and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Finally, our latest game against the Wisconsin Buzzcuts only produced one embrace from Mike Bruesewitz, who got a shout-out after we played the Buzzcuts earlier in the season.  It could be too soon to tell, but based on the first part of this article, it’s safe to say that Mike has a good chance to be my favorite player in the Big Ten next year.

One Armed Embraces: 13 to date (1 last game) ___________________________________________________

Don’t forget that Club Trillion t-shirts are now available by clicking here. 100% of the proceeds benefit A Kid Again, a local charity aimed at enhancing the quality of life for children with life-threatening illnesses. ___________________________________________________

Your awesome YouTube was sent in to me by Lucas R. There’s your shout-out, Lucas. And here’s your video.

Proud To Be An American But Even Prouder To Be A Buckeye,

Mark Titus

Club Trillion Founder