Unknown, Unnoticed, Unappreciated: Husky Walk-Ons Step Up In Practice

BEHIND THE SCENES, non-scholarship players like Andrew Moritz are doing everything they can to help UW rise to the next level. They toil without fame, recognition or compensation. They even have to pay $6 every time they eat a team meal at the crew house.

You can rattle off the reasons the Washington Huskies are suddenly hot: better shooting, schedule and support; more confidence, tougher defense, experience, coaching, depth.

Could be that part of it is because of reserve guard Andrew Moritz, who has played 10 of the Huskies' 4,225 player-minutes.

"I don't think the average fan believes the reason Washington has won seven of the past eight games is because Andrew Moritz works hard in practice," Moritz said.

As discerning as that may be, it's also a disservice to what Moritz and other walk-ons/reserves have done to prepare these Huskies to get to this level. Moritz is one of six current or former walk-ons - an unusually large group - who may be dreamers by nature but can take a measure of credit for the team's achievements this season.

"We're winning because we're shooting better and Deon Luton is hot," Moritz said. "But could it also be because of something behind the scenes? Could it be because me and Bryan (Brown) are working against the first team, talking to them about what Oregon State is going to do and getting them ready by playing as hard as we can against them?"

They believe that. In games, the average fan sees little of Moritz or Brown, who came to UW last year as a walk-on but was offered a scholarship this year. They also don't see other walk-ons, such as Travis Duty, Jajuan Winesbury or Michael Westphal. But they do everything the scholarship players do - practice, weight train, study films - except play.

"It's such an important connection with the student body when they see the walk-ons," said UW Coach Bob Bender, who has an emotional attachment because some of his closest friends to this day were walk-ons at Duke while he played there.

Bender places the same expectations on walk-ons. They are punished for coming late. They are yelled at when they mess up. They all run when someone makes a mistake. They have to maintain their grade-point average or they are ineligible to play, even when they won't anyway. None of them would want it any other way.

"It's unbelievable. It's hard to explain the feeling of coming to practice and playing every day with some of the best players in the country - Donald Watts, Todd MacCulloch, Deon Luton," said freshman Duty, the former O'Dea High player who made the team, along with Winesbury, after the annual walk-on tryouts. "They (coaches) get on me. They let me know if I'm screwing up. But I like that. Then I know what I'm doing wrong and what to improve on."

The walk-ons do it gladly, willingly and without compensation. They get no money for housing or books. They are even required to pay $6 whenever they eat at the crew-house team meals. Moritz, a junior who has played in 21 games - 45 minutes - in three seasons, balances a job with his commitment to the team and schoolwork.

On a typical day, he will have a couple of morning classes, then take a bus downtown for two or three hours of work at Seafirst Investment Services and catch a bus back for afternoon practice, followed by film and notebook sessions, weightlifting, then studying.

"It seems like a really tight schedule, and it is," Moritz said. "I'm not on scholarship, so I've got to do something to bring in the money. I can't keep spending all my summer-job money."

He knows his teammates appreciate what he does. The walk-ons and reserves represent the opposition each week. Moritz might be Kris Weems one week, Jason Terry the next. This week he and Brown were guards Deaundra Tanner and Josh Steinthal of Oregon State, the Huskies' opponent tonight at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.

"After watching films, we'll tell them, `This is what Deaundra does. Make sure you do this.' We try to mimic him as much as we can," Moritz said. "(UCLA's) Baron Davis likes to drive the lane out of control, so we do that. We push the ball up the floor sometimes even if we commit turnovers, just to show them what to expect."

Moritz, Brown and Duty travel to most of the road games. Winesbury and Westphal are redshirting. Then there's the sixth walk-on - now scholarship player - junior forward Chris Walcott. He was given a scholarship after his freshman year and now is a starter.

Walcott and such legendary former walk-ons as Scottie Pippen at Central Arkansas and Jeff Hornacek at Iowa State serve as inspirations for any basketball dreamer: If they can do it, why can't I?

Walcott, who appreciates where he came from and values all of his teammates equally, said, "They (walk-ons) are sometimes underappreciated. They're doing everything we're doing and making us better, but they're paying for it (education), or their parents are. They don't get any significant benefit from it but do it because they love it. They know that our success is due partly because of what they've done."

It's not a role for everyone, knowing from season to season you may play no more than a few minutes. But they persevere.

"You know you're not going to see much time. I accept that," Duty added. "I'm here because I love basketball and I love being around it. I have the attitude that someday in a couple years, maybe, I can show I can play. If I play someday, fine. If not, I'll work hard in practice to help the team get better."