A Salute to Walk-ons - Bracketography.com

Walk-On to Success


by Andy Force
Senior Writer, Bracketography.com
February 17, 2005


Every team has one. He practices everyday with virtually no hopes of playing. If he wears a jersey, you wouldn’t know it because the warm-ups are donned night in and night out. Oh, and he PAYS for school. The walk-on. The five game minutes a season are memories to last a lifetime. The crowd cheers like Michael Jordan himself has walked onto the floor when he checks in. An inconsequential made lay-up during garbage time arouses an uproarious cheer from the faithful.

This was the story of the walk-on at the major university. Perhaps that tale is changing. This season in college basketball has seen a renaissance of contributing former walk-ons for big time programs. The name itself is synonymous with talentless bum. If he were good, he would have gotten a scholarship to play college basketball. Right? Often these guys do.

Duke forward Lee Melchionni received heavy interest from national powers North Carolina and Kansas. He opted instead to become Duke’s 6th recruit of the high school class of 2002. According to the now defunct NCAA 5-8 rule, the Blue Devils could not sign six scholarship players in one year. Melchionni chose to pay his own way the first year with the promise of a future scholarship. (David Noel came to UNC with the ridiculously stacked Rashad McCants, Sean May, and Raymond Felton class in this same fashion.) Melchionni helps tremendously on the road, dumping in nine points per game for Duke. With 31 made triples he is certainly a reliable compliment around the arc to J. J. Redick.

From unknown practice player to the cover of Wisconsin’s media guide, Clayton Hanson’s ascendance has been anything but swift. As is often the case players commit to coaches and not necessarily a college. Hanson bought into Bo Ryan’s sell so thoroughly he forfeited his University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee full-ride to join Ryan at Wisconsin.

Similarly when former Illini coach Bill Self left the Tulsa job, Jack Ingram followed him. No promises of future scholarships or even playing time existed to ease the transition of these vagabonds. Now Bill Self leads the RockChalkJayhawk cheers for Kansas. While Ingram sat out his mandatory year for transferring, Self caught the bus to Lawrence, KS. Having never played in a game for the coach he trailed like the Pied Piper, Ingram set his anchor down in Chambana. Sixth man for the #1 Fighting Illini Jack Ingram sank back-to-back 3-pointers at a critical juncture against Hanson's Badgers. Clayton played 38 minutes scoring six points, but the Illini won largely due to Ingram's timely shooting.

Though Hanson played sparingly in his first two years for the Badgers he has started every game this year for the tournament-bound Wisconsin squad. He took advantage of Alando Tucker’s season-ending foot injury last year to establish himself in the rotation before breaking through this season. His increased exposure after 2003-2004 earned him a place on the Big Ten Foreign Tour Team, a haven for second-tier talent. Subsequent to toiling in obscurity on the Badger bench, Hanson is surely grateful to be on any tier at all.

Kansas University, a pillar of success as the third winningest team all-time, is starting a walk-on. Despite owning a roster of six or seven future pros, Self cannot keep the diligent and opportunistic Moody off the floor. Sharing the frontcourt with All-American candidate Wayne Simien, there is little chance of teams accounting for him on the boards. He is second on the team in rebounds and constantly sidles in for offensive putbacks.

Three notable former walk-ons in the back courts of top 25 teams include Texas Tech starting point guard Ronald Ross, Michigan State guard Tim Bograkos, and Perrin Johnson of the Louisville Cardinals.

With all of these success stories of the walk-on, there is none better than that of Walt “Clyde” Frazier. That is right. The four-time NBA All-Star and two-time NBA Champion walked on at middling Southern Illinois. Major colleges in the south were not recruiting the black Atlanta native in the mid-sixties. With minimal northern exposure, Frazier followed the advice of a white church worker Samuel Johnson. Johnson pushed the notion of walking on at SIU-C and the rest is history.