The walk-ons on most college rosters generally go unnoticed. They rarely get into games. When they do, the score is usually so unbalanced that many fans have already left. Even some of the biggest fans might not know their names.
But the 2014–2015 Texas men’s basketball walk-ons are making sure people know exactly who they are.
Sophomore forward Danny Newsome, a three-year veteran of the program, has the longest tenure of the five walk-ons. Senior guard Tarale Murry and junior forward Brandon Allums joined him at the beginning of last season, and sophomore forward Ryan McClurg soon followed suit in January 2014. Freshman guard Joe Schwartz rounded out the squad in December.
Individually, the five walk-ons don’t receive the same recognition as the Longhorns’ scholarship players do. But, as a unit, they’ve created their own online brand.
Their success on the Internet has arisen because of their Twitter account, @UTBBallWalkOns, in which they call themselves the “LastOnesOffTheBench.” The account currently has more than
Newsome said the idea to create the account arose during the team’s trip to Arizona for a scrimmage against Gonzaga. He said he wanted a way to document the adventures of the Longhorns’ least prolific players. He pitched the idea of a Twitter account to McClurg, and they became the co-creators and the lone password holders for the Twitter account.
“We really had no idea what we were going to get out of it,” Newsome said. “We knew we wanted it to be very funny and sarcastic and very promoting of the team.”
They decided the best way to do this was to upload stoic photos of all of the walk-ons standing at the half-court line of each of the team’s road venues.
They tweeted their first picture on Nov. 20 from Madison Square Garden in New York City, where they received 64 “retweets” and 94 “favorites,” and they’ve continued to tweet pictures ever since.
At first, Murry gave his teammates a hard time about the Twitter, joking that he wouldn’t take part in the photos. He eventually agreed to participate — under the condition he would never look at the camera in any of the pictures.
“It seems like a paradox,” Murry said. “Because I’m drawing attention to myself by not looking, but I’m [acting like I don’t want attention].”
Of course, the walk-ons possess a far more important role on the team than simply garnering attention on social media.
They serve as Texas’ scout team– studying the tendencies of the Longhorns’ next opponents and then emulate them against the scholarship players in practice.
“It gives the guys a better look at how [teams are going to play against us],” McClurg said. “They aren’t going to remember plays, but they’re remembering general actions, and those things kind of stick. That’s kind of our way that we can help them.”
While the fans may not be aware of what the walk-ons do in practice, the scholarship players realize the significance of their contributions.
“They’re really the behind-the-scenes guys on this team,” freshman forward Myles Turner said. “They put in the extra work when we’re not here just to [learn] the personnel of the other team [for] scout [team]. They do a lot of stuff with this team that goes unnoticed.”
Beyond functioning as the scout team, the walk-ons help out in drills and fill in during practice if someone is hurt.
“We do whatever the coaches need us to do, basically,” Allums said.
When the Longhorns are holding a healthy lead over their opponents, the walk-ons actually get to hit the floor during a game’s closing minutes. Each time they’ve made it to the court this season, their entrance has elicited loud cheers from the fans.
Newsome and Allums lead the walk-ons with five appearances this season, and McClurg and Murry each have four.
On Dec. 16 against Lipscomb, Schwartz’s first game on the active roster, all five of the walk-ons played during the final few minutes. Each walk-on scored.
Schwartz connected on a 3-pointer in his only shot attempt in the game, and he hasn’t played since.
“He’s now 100 percent from three,” McClurg said. “I told him not to take another shot in his career.”
Although the opportunities to play are rare for the walk-ons, Schwartz considers their overall contributions to the team to be as significant as anyone’s.
“I think our role is just as important as everyone else’s,” Schwartz said. “We’re here to bring energy. We’re here to do the best we can on scout team. We’re here to be tough on the guys when we need to, and we’re here to have the guys’ backs.”
For the walk-ons, those responsibilities seem to be a perfect fit.
“We want playing time because if we get playing time, that means we’re up by 30,” McClurg said. “But we really don’t want playing time. We just love being a part of the program and love being around the guys.”