"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Walk-On Greats

Marquette is looking for a walk-on to join the 2021-2022 men's roster.

Being a walk-on is more than just waving a towel at the end of the bench and celebrating every made basket.


As the first walk-on to ever earn four varsity letters Rob Frozena pointed out, you may not be a Division I talent but you are expected to play and practice like a Division I player

While you get a jersey, a great seat to every game, be the hero of the student section and the victory cigar symbol when you enter the game (or the white flag), a lot goes into a being a walk-on. Oh, you are still paying tuition (unless you are at BYU), so in essence you are paying to be on the team and all the work and time commitment that comes with it.

Why would anyone in their right 18-22 year old mind willingly volunteer for such a role? 

That is why I always respect the walk-on. The Rudy's of the world as I like to call them. 

Their career stats will always have a zero point in front of them. The games played is usually in the single digits and averaged minutes is usually one. The walk-on who enters a game gets to say something not everyone can say and that is playing in a Division I game.

Some of my greatest walk-ons hits at Marquette would have to start with Frozena and it is not just because he was the first to make it all four years. It was also because he understood the role of the walk-on so well: Work hard, ignore the screams to shoot a 30-footer and have fun. He never took himself seriously and focused on how he could help the team that day get better. Also, he willingly took years of Buzz Williams hollering at him and came back for more.


Another favorite I have to go with is Cam Mariota. He is the second player to make it all four years as a walk-on in program history. His dad Marc had a pretty good career back in the 1980's as a scholarship player. Sadly, his father never got to see Cam in a Marquette uniform due to Marc’s untimely passing away. Cam could have played football at the FCS level but Cam wanted to wear a Marquette hoops jersey. He did just that with class.

Another good one was Craig Kuphall only because Head Coach at the time Tom Crean gave one of the best quotes when he rationalized benching Jerel McNeal in favor of Kuphall to start the second half against Savannah State on December 30, 2006. Marquette was playing sluggish in the first half but Crean was not trying to send a message to his team. He just liked the look in Kuphall's eyes coming out of the locker room. No message to send I guess except Kuphall had great eyes. Although Marquette then went onto to destroy Savannah State and Kuphall did not play much again.

My final personal favorite is Tony Gries (Full disclosure I did indirectly sublet his Renee Row room from him the summer after I graduated in 2004). He joined the 2003 Final Four team early that season but what stood out was he could actually ball. I remember there was talk about how much he challenged Dwyane Wade in practice. Gries even earned a chance to get some regular playing in the 2003-04 season when no one could really pin down being Travis Diener's backup. Crean gave him a shot against Canisius and Gries handled his own in a narrow victory. It was enough to earn another some playing time but the next game was against Wisconsin. Gries checked in and immediately had quick turnover which in turn led to Gries returning to the end of the bench for the rest of the season.

Hey, it is the end of the bench where a lot of the hardest working players on the team sit. They do not get any glory but glory is not what a walk-on is after.