Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about the characteristics of a good walk-on player. At Kentucky, we’ve seen the spectrum: cocky chest puffers (Steve Masiello), hard-nosed hustlers (Mark “Clappin'” Krebs), and baby-faced Backstreet lookalikes (Jarrod Polson). While we love to scream “SHOOOOOOOOT” at each of them equally, some stand out a little more for their passion and pride in the Blue and White.
Since the first walk-on I can remember in earnest is Masiello (no wonder I hate hair gel on men), I had to dip into the dusty history books to attempt a fair assessment of Kentucky’s unsung heroes. And man, what a delightful research topic (thank you bigbluehistory.net, for your wonderful resources, by the way).
Here’s where I would rank the walk-ons, in terms of a) Big Blue pride b) on-court performance and c) legacy:
Career Points: 365
Mills is one of the most memorable walk-ons in Kentucky history due to his super sweet three-point shot and tendency to step up in big games. Case and point: the three to give the Cats the lead against Duke in the 1998 Elite Eight. That clip still gives me chills. Fewer players have had more passion for the blue and white than Mills, who turned down a scholarship at Georgia to play for the Cats. Mills is now an evangelist who travels the state, speaking to churches, youth groups, and schools.
Career points: 376
Many people forget that Moss was a walk-on, which is understandable considering he was a starter for a while. Ravi was one of Tubby Smith’s best athletes and quickly became a fan favorite because of his unselfish, gutsy play. Unfortunately, Ravi ran into some trouble with the law after college, but his hustle and flat out effort should endear him to Cat fans for life.
Nehemiah “Junior” Braddy
Career Points: 327
I’ll admit, I’m too young to remember Junior Braddy, but the more I read about him, the more I like him. Braddy, also a member of the baseball team, brought a spark off the bench and helped the program emerge from its darkest hours. What did being a walk-on mean to Braddy? In his own words, from the 1991-1992 season:
Chance of a Lifetime by Junior Braddy
Every child in America dreams of becoming someone famous or just doing something special that sets you apart from the rest of the world. It is impossible not to dream. Every time we go to sleep at night or just daydream in class, we enter another world where no goal or achievement is impossible. Most of us wake up, but a select few dream on, until one day they realize that their dream has come true.
Fifteen people share the same dream, with each person striving to make that dream come true, but knowing that with one mishap or twist of fate you can be rudely awakened never to dream that dream again. But with determination and hard work we can dream on, until truly we become one of the select few on this earth. We have the chance of a lifetime, and I believe that we can do it. Not by might or by power, but by faith. And I do believe.
Career Points: 30
Why include LeMaster? Sure, his stats aren’t as flashy as some on the list, but Preston LeMaster was the quintessential Kentucky boy that fans could connect with through shared childhood dreams of playing for the Cats. That’s why we all went wild when LeMaster, son of former Cat Jim LeMaster, scored a career-high 12 points on 4-5 shooing from behind the arc in an 80-40 victory over Ole Miss.
Career points: 24
“But, Tyler,” you say, “This guy only played ONE YEAR. Why does he deserve a place amongst the fan favorites?” His three-pointer to send Kentucky to the Final Four over Florida State, that’s why. Svbododa took a big risk by transferring to UK from Northern Kentucky his senior season, especially considering Rick Pitino told him he wouldn’t get a single minute of playing time. That’s not that unusual for a walk-on to hear from his coach, but Svoboda took the chance anyways, and it paid off. Svoboda reignited the hopes of a team and fan base recovering from probation and the dreams of young Cat fans across the Bluegrass.
Career Points: 28
Perhaps more infamous for his bright red curly hair and last name than the points he scored, Gettelfinger will always be a fan favorite. Unselfish and almost proud of the role he played for the team, he chose to play for Kentucky over his hometown Tennessee Volunteers, which should make you love him no matter what.
Career Points: 12
Future walk-ons could learn a thing or two from Mr. Krebs (and I’m not just saying that because he’s part of the KSR family). Like Gettelfinger and others before him, Krebs embraced the role of walk-on, working hard to help the team in practice and supporting from the sidelines (although Stacey Poole is giving him a run for his money for best cheerleader).
Career Points: 65
Ah, the Coury Flurry. Exactly as awkward as he looks, Mark Coury is lovable for many reasons. First and most obvious, his freakin’ sweet good looks. Who can forget the rec specs picture (obviously not me, since it’s the one I chose to use)? Even more bizarre was his brief stint as a starter under Billy Gillispie and his career at Cornell after he transferred. Godspeed, Mark Coury.
Career Points: 21
Another homegrown Kentucky boy, Heissenbuttel naturally grew up loving the Cats. He was even a ball boy for Rick Pitino back in the day. He may not hold any scoring records at Kentucky, but he does hold a record for the longest last name of any current or former player. Take that, Matt Scherbenske!
Career Points: 42
I really didn’t want to put Masiello on this list because he’s such a you-know-what, but like it or not, he’s one of Kentucky’s more memorable walk-ons. After doing a little bit of reading about Mr. Masiello, it turns out that my alma mater, Davidson, rejected him (see, we ARE smart), which led Rick Pitino, a close family friend, to give him the chance to be a walk-on at Kentucky. So there you go. The admissions office at Davidson was the catalyst for Steve Masiello’s journey from Knicks ballboy to Kentucky walk-on/victory cigar to assistant coach/Molly’s regular to Manhattan College head basketball coach. You’re welcome?
I know I’ve left several favorites off the list, but it’s a start. Who did I miss? SHOOOOT!