Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Wannabes: Rec League All-Stars

Walk-ons. These are the guys who never see the court unless it is a blowout, are permanently relegated to the scout team, and are not on scholarship. They ride the end of the bench and put on their Gold Bomber uniform in pride like Nate Watkins and Carter Josephs. Walk-ons have to walk a fine line in knowing their place on the team. They are there to challenge the top players in practice every day (and at many schools to lift the team GPA) and having a sense of entitlement or acting like you should play is not something that is recommended. Obviously, the walk-ons want to play but they have to accept their place in the program and most times that involves not playing.

However, the walk-ons have a unique sense of pride in putting on the Vanderbilt jersey. They are just happy to be there and be playing college basketball, and they appreciate all the things they get to experience minus all of the expectations. The walk-ons may honestly have more fun than anybody because there is no pressure on them, other than to compete for the Club Trillion leaderboard (a trillion is when a player records 1 minute played and zero other statistics). Many walk-ons like Ohio State's Mark Titus and Michigan's Josh Bartelstein have even taken to the blogosphere to share their tales from the end of the bench.

While being a walk-on is far from a glorious role, there is a group of about 10 to 15 kids on campus who vie to become a walk-on each year. These guys are total alpha dogs who live at the Vanderbilt Rec Center. When you play pick-up at the rec, you are going to play in one of two kinds of games. The first type of game is where the guys are just looking to get a run in and play basketball, the kind of pickup you see in most places. The second type is what I call the Iso-Show. This is where some combination of those 10 to 15 kids, all try to one up each other with blatant disregard for team basketball. Imagine Nate Robinson being much less athletic and gifted with the same type of shot selection, and that is what you see.

It turns into a 1 on 5 show with contested fade-aways and endless taunting dominating the game. Not to mention the inordinate amount of fouls called when a shot doesn't go in. It is a bunch of former high school stars unleashing the pent up testosterone they have had since their high school career ended, looking for an outlet to return to the top-dog status they so desperately crave. Each year, these 10 to 15 kids take a break from the rec to make their way over to Memorial for the walk-on tryouts.

I respect all of these guys for trying out, and they are all much more talented basketball players than I am and I am friends with some of them, but for many of them it is hard to transition from "rec-league all-star" to "quiet, unassuming walk-on". The coaches don't want a walk on to be cocky or have an attitude because they are likely never going to play and need to embrace their role on the team and not step on any toes. No matter how talented a potential walk-on is, he won't make the team if he exhibits any sort of cocky behavior. Just show up and do your job, that is the motto for walk-ons to live by, but it goes against what the Rec All Stars do all year.

For the 9 months they are in school, they all try to one up one another to prove they are the top dog and the best player. It is this intense year-long competition to hold on to the status that they are all clinging to from their high school playing days. And since this dominates the way they play basketball for long periods of time, transitioning to a different style during the two-hour tryouts is often difficult. So each year these all-stars try out and when they don't make the team, they go back to the rec looking to reclaim the title of best baller on campus not actually on the team.

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