BYU’s walk-on tryouts keep basketball dreams alive

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Every fall they show up with a dream. Former high school players who hope the soft shot can still fall or the crossover move that made them a hometown hero will still work. They dream of playing on the court that made Danny Ainge and Jimmer Fredette campus legends.

Out of this ambitious group of dreamers, BYU basketball coaches will find the newest additions to the team. They hope to find a diamond in the rough, just like they did with Craig Cusick.

Craig Cusick celebrates a basket during a game against Saint Mary's last season. Photo by Universe Photographer.
Craig Cusick celebrates a basket during a game against Saint Mary’s last season. (Photo by Universe Photographer)

“My dream was to play college basketball,” Cusick said.

Cusick, who once played for Salt Lake Community College, had to pass through the refiner’s fire before suiting up in front of thousands of eager fans in the Marriott Center. Because of a season-ending ankle injury while playing for SLCC, Cusick was not recruited to play college ball. After almost abandoning his childhood dream of playing for the Cougars, he found his silver lining: walk-on tryouts.

Edgard Coral, a 22-year-old from Springville majoring in manufacturing engineering technology, hopes he’ll be the next Cusick. He was one of the many hopefuls who showed up at this year’s walk-on tryouts, which were held Sept. 16.

“I was fortunate to see an online post about tryouts,” Coral said. “I came because I love basketball.”

In conjunction with a love for basketball, Coral showed up hoping to do what his uncle never did. When Coral’s uncle studied at BYU, he practiced all year and was the last player to be cut from a large group of participants. Later in his life, Coral’s uncle developed a fatal form of cancer that took his life. The family’s dream now lives on through his nephew.

For Jake Robison, a 23-year-old from Orem majoring in exercise science, this year’s tryouts were all about proving he still had the magical touch that caught the coaches’ eyes last year. While Robison was practicing with the team last season, he suffered a severe ankle injury that rendered him unable to play. Equipped with ankle braces to prevent further injury, he is hoping to outperform this year’s group of likely candidates.

Robison played for Orem High School and has continued to seek opportunities to play a sport he says he loves.

“Playing with the team is the best competition you can get,” Robison reasoned.

But showing up for tryouts in a high school jersey is not enough to secure a position on the practice squad. Each year, anywhere from 30-50 anxious students compete for a limited number of coveted spots. Unfortunately, only two to four walk-ons are selected to practice with the team each season, making it not uncommon for coaches like Mark Pope to turn kids away — a job that is not always easy.

“We’re in the business of chasing dreams,” Pope said. “The worst part about coaching is when you have to tell someone it isn’t going to work out for them.”

Those who make it on the team as walk-ons are always practice players and seldom, if ever, see any playing time in a game. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t needed.

“Our walk-ons are an important part of our team,” Pope said. “They help with game preparation, running drills and (helping) our guys get better.”

After a year, the walk-ons are released from the practice squad and a new group is brought in. Cusick’s walk-on experience was a bit different from most. After his year expired, Coach Dave Rose asked him to stay and play with the team as an official player. Cusick said he was fortunate to have that opportunity.

“It was a dream come true. I always believed in myself,” Cusick said. “Coach Rose opened the door to make it all possible.”

One of Cusick’s most memorable experiences was hitting the game-winning shot in BYU’s 70-68 win over Utah State last year. But earning that shot took a lot of preparation.

“I had to give it everything I had during practice to earn a few minutes of playing time here and there,” Cusick said.

The coaches will notice when a player has Cusick’s dedication, which can be just as important as shooting and passing skills. That’s why guys like Coral and Robison show up every fall — with big dreams and some game.

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