The path of the walk-on is not an easy one. On the one hand, every dude playing ball in auxilary gyms and intramural leagues thinks he's better than you. Almost nobody knows your name, and those who do often casually deride it. The best-case scenario is often anonymity. Your role in games is either that of a victory cigar or of a human white flag. If you're out there when the game is still in doubt, reality has diverged from the plan.
On the other hand, while the coach doesn't expect the same production out of you as he does of the scholarship guys, he expects the same effort. You have to know all the calls and what they mean, where you're supposed to rotate on defense, and often even what opponents are trying to do so you can simulate it in practice. Sleep and study and social activities are sacrificed at the altar of... something. Some ambiguous idea that your career isn't over yet, and you're going to put in whatever work is required to hang on. It was into this role that Tim Whelan stepped for the past two years.
0.1/0.0/0.0 on .000/.000/.500 shooting
Most walk-ons are too something to be recruited at the highest level. Some are too slow, some are too lazy, others are too bad at academics. Tim Whelan was too short. When you are of such a height that the program lists you at 5'9", you're going to have to be the exception to almost every rule to have someone pay for you attention in return for your services on the court. Whelan was not.
Despite that, he made the team as a walk-on his junior year. He first made his name to Xavier fans when he was identified as the player who left a little bit of tooth in Semaj's elbow during a practice before the 2012-2013 season. The incident delayed Semaj's debut as a Musketeer, but it left a greater mark on Whelan. He would need his tooth repaired, but he vowed publicly to eschew doing so until the Muskies were ranked in a national poll. Though Xavier has risen to "receiving votes" a couple of times since then, they have never crested into the top 25. I hope Whelan has long since gotten his dentition seen to by a health care professional. In the meantime, our semi-regular look at the polls bears - and will continue to bear - his name in honor of the sacrifice he made.
One of the ways you could tell what Whelan was about was the interaction between him and his teammates. I wasn't part of the locker room banter, but he was active on Twitter and his teammates were on there busting his chops. More than that, he also grabbed the edge in Matt Stainbrook's Twitter voting to have the Xavier Blue Crew honor him on Senior Night.
Like most walk-ons, Tim Whelan didn't leave us too many on-court memories of his career. He appeared in ten games, all of them once the only issue of doubt was the exact final score. He had his moment, though, against DePaul. With less than a minute left and Xavier up by 20, Whelan's impressive whirlwind of offensive moves intimidated Durrell McDonald into a panic foul.
Xavier was already in the bonus, so Whelan went to the line. With the crowd in a frenzy, he stepped to the line and calmly banged the free throw.
Years from now, Whelan will be playing ball in an open gym, or in a church league, or on a playground, and someone will find out that he played for Xavier. He'll have heard the jabs and the disbelief that go along with claiming a college sporting career without a body that lends obvious credence to the claim. When someone has a word, though, Whelan will have one more point in a Big East game than almost anyone he plays with.
When he thinks back on the grind and the time he poured in, on the effort that it took and the time it pulled away from something else that he could have been devoting himself to, I hope he remembers the teammates and banter on long road trips. I hope he remembers his time in front of the cameras and microphones for Senior Night. And I hope he remembers his Big East point and the hundreds of other things that he has that he earned with graft and dedication, and that nobody can take that away from him.