Every class that comes into the program is different from the others. No two classes are the same, but in my time with the team, no class as a whole has been more distinctive than this past year's freshman class. I absolutely loved being around all seven of our freshmen from last year because they were like a microcosm of society in general. Each one was a character totally unique from the others and they were seven pretty different people who ended up being a great group.
However, unfortunately that group of seven has dwindled to three as AJ Astroth and Sheldon Jeter have transferred while Andris Kehris and Alex Gendelman will not be playing again next. That leaves Kevin Bright, Nathan Watkins, and Carter Josephs as the last remnants of this freshman class. This blog post is a tribute to those seven and an appreciation for everything they brought to the program. So if you guys are reading this, thanks for being so freakin' great.
I'll start off with Kevin Bright. I don't want to refer to Kevin as the ringleader of the group because it wasn't like the other guys followed him around and tried to be like him, but Kev was like the cool kid. If this were high school, Kevin would have been most popular because he was well liked, a starter, and had a beautiful girlfriend. Everybody liked and respected Kevin because it was hard not to, he is just really a great guy.
Then there was AJ. I described AJ in detail in this blog post, but I will touch on some of the main points again here. AJ is a happy-go-lucky kid. No matter what is going on at a given time, AJ is always smiling and always in a good mood. AJ is kind of naive in the fact that he would often times ask questions with what seemed like obvious answers, but AJ truly didn't know the answer and that is why he asked. AJ was always talking and saying something, he was full of energy, and AJ didn't have any grand expectations or demands.
Obviously he was upset he wasn't playing (and that is why he ended up transferring), but AJ never vocalized that to the team or complained outwardly, instead embracing his role as a Gold Bomber on the scout team. A lot of guys would have said "screw this" and kind of loafed on the scout team, but AJ took it in stride and had a ton of fun with the "Gold Bombers". He was just happy to be there and be around the program each day, and his positivity is something that will be greatly missed.
Next up is Sheldon Jeter. Sheldon is a different cat. He marches to the beat of his own drummer and doesn't conform to the standards or expectations of those around him, which is why I respect Sheldon so much. A lot of times in a team setting, it is easy to change or try to "fit in", but Sheldon's attitude was I'm going to be myself whether you like it or not. In the piece linked above, I delve further into Sheldon's personality, but his individuality and intensely competitive nature were fun to observe this season. I have no doubt, he will have success wherever he ends up.
Then there was Nate "Swatkins" Watkins. Nate tried out for the team on a limb, never quite expecting to make it, but when he did make it, Nate was still shocked he was on the team. Nate spent most of his time with the squad last year crafting an alter ego of Swatkins, based on his tenacious shot-blocking capabilities, racking up Trillions (where a player plays 1 minute without racking up any other statistics), or promoting his candidacy for SEC Walk-On of the Year (a fictitious award that Nate "dreams" of one day capturing).
Walk-ons have a precarious place in the program. They are a part of the team and there to make others better, but you can't have an ego as a walk-on. You are essentially glorified practice players and you need to embrace your role, and Nate did that with reckless abandon. I look for him to continue his campaign toward the trillion leaderboard next year and for the Swatkins nickname to be revived, and I'm counting on you fans to help him out.
Next up is Carter. Carter is like Switzerland, stuck in eternal neutrality. Carter is the most even-keeled person I've ever met. He's like a road that is endlessly flat with no changes or curves. Carter pisses nobody off and is liked by everybody because you can't not like Carter because he doesn't do anything that would push you to not like him. Nate has said, "There is nothing Carter hates more than controversy" and he does an excellent job of avoiding it. He is never in the middle of any arguments and nobody ever thinks to bring him into one because often times they forget he is there or that he has an opinion. He is very smart (he could have gone to MIT), but doesn't show it or brag about it, he is humble and understated, and therefore well liked by those around him.
Then there was Alex Gendelman. Gendy was another walk-on, but he had one foot in Memorial and one foot on frat row the entire season. When you think of a frat guy, you think of Alex Gendelman. Always well groomed with his hair impeccably parted to the side (his hair never moved during a game or practice, it always maintained the part) and well-dressed, Alex looked more frat-star than D1 athlete, and he kind of was.
At one point during the season when Alex had a concussion, he disappeared for two weeks and nobody knew where he was. We thought he was gradually fading away from the team before announcing his shift to full time frat guy. The rumors and speculation were rampant in the locker room about the fate of the walk-on from New York. Then one night after a game, Alex appeared in the locker (he was alive!!!) just in time to get that night's per diem (I don't find his timing to be a mere coincidence...). Alex finished out the rest of the season, but will not be coming back next year.
Finally, there was Andris Kehris. Andris was hilarious and irritating all at once. Andris was very intelligent and insightful. He was actually very well versed in world history and basketball history, but his insights were taken with a grain of a salt because his GPA hovered closer to a Goose-Egg than a 4.0. Andris' case wasn't helped by the fact that he found an argument in anything. One of his favorite arguments was preaching Tony Romo as a better quarterback than Jay Cutler. Andris was obsessed with Romo and hated Cutler and he let everyone know. He was in the middle of every argument on the team.
In addition to his argumentative nature, Andris' mannerisms were a sight to see. He shot free throws by practically falling over to the left side of his body and when he would miss a lay-up, his face wreaked of disgust with himself before he would say "Damnnnn it" in his Latvian accent. Then there was the time he had a concussion at the SEC Tournament and on the bus ride home he practically curled up in the fetal position while panting "my head, my head". Needless to say, he didn't come to the next day's game, but Andris was always there when he could be, and the team loses a valuable source of entertainment next season with his departure.
I hope this gives you guys an insight into the special collection of people and players that made up this freshmen class. They were truly unforgettable.