Apparently, the road less traveled leads to the Thunderdome.
With just seven players sure to be available for tonight’s game against Cal Poly, the UCSB men’s basketball team is a flurry of miscast characters. Guards are playing forward, forwards are playing center and walk-ons are playing, well, a lot.
“It’s a good thing in a way, I guess, for us; we’re probably getting opportunities that we wouldn’t have otherwise so we’re just trying to make the most of it,” freshman walk-on forward Derek Rasp said.
Rasp is one of four Gauchos who began a career in Santa Barbara as a walk-on, and in just his second year in the program (Rasp redshirted the 2003-04 campaign), Rasp has played more minutes than most walk-ons could hope to play in their entire careers.
“We’ve had other walk-ons who have done very well. Bray Skultety was a former walk-on and he ended up being a starter,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “But I’ve never had a team since I’ve been at a level where there’s scholarships [reduced] down to seven healthy players, and where about 45 percent of our team is walk-ons.”
Now a senior averaging 9.8 points per game, floor general Chrismen Oliver has played his way to a scholarship and into a starting role after initially walking on. By the end of his freshman year, Oliver would be playing considerable minutes on a team that went to the NCAA Tournament after winning the Big West Conference title. In the first round of the NCAA Tourney against Arizona, Oliver had six points in a near upset of one of the top teams in the nation.
“That was a Cinderella story that year especially. But, for me to even take those shots, I had to have some confidence especially as a walk-on going against Arizona,” Oliver said. “Getting there really helped my confidence, ’cause I’m there going against one of the top teams in the nation – against Jason Gardener who was one of the top point guards that year.”
Michael Chambers, a junior transfer from University of San Francisco, gave up a scholarship at USF to play at Santa Barbara as a walk-on. Chambers, who was initially recruited to play at Santa Barbara, has seen a jump in minutes that he hopes will translate into a jump in production.
“The injuries aren’t good,” Chambers said. “But they’ve given us all an opportunity to show coach what we can do.”
Sophomore David Kennedy also transferred to the team. Kennedy, unlike Chambers, didn’t have to change zip codes, coming instead from the men’s volleyball team. But, similar to Chambers, he did have to sacrifice some money to make the switch.
“Because of NCAA rules, I had to give up my scholarship, so it was a big move for me, but all my visits I took out of high school were for basketball. Once I got here though I started watching basketball games and I missed it so much,” Kennedy said. “I was like man, ‘I only get one chance.'”
Disproving the theory that walk-ons are better equipped to avoid injury, Kennedy has been sidelined with an injury for most of this season, joining senior forward Casey Cook, junior Cecil Brown, freshman forward Chris Devine and junior forward Cameron Goettsche, who is questionable for tonight’s game.
With the potential absence of Goettsche, the Gauchos will again have to play with just one true big man in sophomore forward Glenn Turner, who tied UCSB’s record for blocked shots in a game Saturday with six swats.
UCSB will surely need production from their lone big man, and look for SB to put up plenty of three pointers against Cal Poly tonight. Of the team’s 105 shots attempted in its last two games against Utah State and Idaho, 55 have been from beyond the arc.