In a year like this season, with the Gonzaga Bulldogs most likely entering the polls ranked as the top team, and if not, very near the top, all of the public accolades will go to the starters and the stars. This is understandable, they are the faces of the squad, after all.
Players such as Drew Timme, Chet Holmgren, Andrew Nembhard, and many more are the highlight reels. They are the ones that draw the cheers throughout the majority of the 40 minutes. It isn’t until the waning minutes of the game that we see the walk-ons, such as Will Graves, get their time on the floor.
But in reality, every time you are cheering for that lovely looking floater by Nembhard, you are cheering for Graves as well. If the starters are the heart of the team, the walk-ons are the spine. They are the unsung heroes, the teammates who do the dirty work, who emulate the opposition during practices, the guys that help grind it out so that the players are properly prepared for each opponent.
Generally speaking, we don’t take the time to acknowledge how important this role is throughout the season, but we should always keep it in our minds during the season. Gonzaga might be however many times more athletic and just better than the your random WCC school, but good teams don’t merely not as good teams by 30 points based on sheer athleticism alone. They do it thanks to the hard work and preparation of the guys on the red squad.
Graves, like his fellow senior Matthew Lang, take on an added leadership role. They are the vets of the walk-ons. Next year, they will pass on the torch. But until then, remember to cheer a bit louder for Graves when he inevitably hits one of his buckets in the closing minutes of the games this season.