STORRS – Non-scholarship basketball players on the UConn men’s basketball team, much like other programs across the country, often achieve cult status.
Extras often become heroes, despite the relatively short time they spend on the field during Husky matches. They sometimes serve as metaphorical victory cigars, their appearance on the field signaling that UConn is heading for a victory.
But their college basketball experience isn’t always the easiest. Long days of practice, to accompany the workload of a typical student, are often not rewarded.
“It’s not as glamorous. It’s a cool experience for the extras, but it’s a chore for them,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “They practice meat. They prey on dummies. They are quite beaten at the end of the year.
They must give meat and, in some cases, coffee.
About two decades ago, former UConn coach Jim Calhoun was asked by a reporter about one of his extras, but he seemed puzzled when the youngster’s name came up.
“Oh, you mean cream and sugar? Calhoun replied with a smile.
Calhoun was joking – we’re pretty sure – but it’s obvious that extras work extremely hard over the course of their careers.
One of the rewards for this hard work is playing time in a big game. Say, for example, a Senior Day matchup against DePaul on Saturday.
That’s what everyone was hoping for UConn’s Matt Garry walk-on. The Southington native was honored along with the other UConn seniors ahead of the Huskies’ victory over the Blue Demons.
Garry, who often hears his name called from the student section at the end of UConn wins, started hearing the “We want Garry!” calls on Saturday with 10 minutes left on the clock.
Five minutes from the end, they started to come to a head.
It was okay. UConn was ahead by 17 points and was on its way to an easy win.
All of a sudden, though, the Huskies lead was down to 12. Then it was nine. Then it was five.
By the time the last minute came, it was clear that Garry wouldn’t get one last minute of fame. The lead was too close for comfort.
Did the student section chants loosen up the Huskies a bit?
“I heard it,” Hurley said. “But that has nothing to do with what happened. I think it’s a coincidence.
Garry was able to play 11 games during his career at UConn and scored two points with a pair of free throws against Long Island University on November 17.
But the 6ft5in was probably eager to speak at the Gampel Pavilion one last time. His teammates were certainly impatient for him.
“We’ve definitely heard that,” UConn senior Tyrese Martin said of Garry’s calls to play. “We spoke to each other at half-time, the five seniors, and we wanted to keep control of this game so that we could bring him in. But it obviously didn’t happen like that at the end of the match. It’s on us. We owe Matt one for that.
Another of the UConn seniors, forward Isaiah Whaley, admitted he was likely going to pay a pretty steep price for the Huskies’ lackadaisical finish against DePaul.
“Yes, we owe him. I hang out with him a lot, so he’s probably going to give me a lot of heat for that,” Whaley said of Garry. “I’ll probably hear about the best of everyone.”
That’s not to say UConn hasn’t had a few extras playing major minutes for the team.
EJ Harrison was a Division III Western Connecticut State star before coming to UConn and was a pretty big contributor to the 1999 National Championship team.
Andre Drummond was also an extra during his only season at UConn, although he was obviously tagged for NBA stardom and only paid his own way due to his last-minute commitment. .
But for the most part, the walk-ons at UConn are often remembered for the times the sub took out a star player in the final minutes.
Admit it, it was great when Steve Emt replaced Donny Marshall. When Kyle Chapman replaced Ray Allen. When Richard Moore replaced Ricky Moore. When Jeff Cybart replaced Kevin Freeman. When Ace Watanasuparp replaced Ben Gordon. When Kwasi Gyambibi replaced Tony Robertson. When Darryl Woods replaced Johnnie Selvie. When Mike Woodward replaced Caron Butler. When Jason Baisch replaced Emeka Okafor. When Sami Ameziane replaced Rashad Anderson. When Kyle Bailey replaced AJ Price. When Martin Gagné for Rudy Gay. When Ben Stewart replaced Alex Oriakhi. When Tor Watts replaced Shabazz Napier. When Nnamdi Amilo replaced Phil Nolan. When Pat Lenehan replaced Ryan Boatright. When Christian Foxen replaced Kentan Facey.
Only a handful of extras have contributed to UConn teams over the years. And they won’t be the last.
In fact, the next “star” in this vein has a household name. Andrew Hurley, the UConn coach’s son, is a second-year guard for the Huskies.
“Now I have family pressure,” Hurley joked. “I tempered some of my remarks with Matt because I don’t have jealousy without a date.”
Neill Ostrout is the Journal Inquirer’s sports editor.
Neill covers the UConn men’s basketball and UConn football teams, and he keeps a finger on the pulse of Connecticut sports. For live game updates and more information from UConn athletics, player transfers and team changesfollow Neill on Twitter: @NeillOstroutFacebook: JINeillO and Instagram: @NeillOstrout.