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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Basketball Guide 2014: Arizona walk-ons have purpose

Layla+Nicks+%2F++The+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0ARick+McCollum+drives+students+around+the+Outer+Campus+Loop+on+the+Cat+Tran+Friday+Oct.+17%2C+2014.+Rick+usually+works+Thursdays+and+Fridays.
Tyler Baker
Layla Nicks / The Daily Wildcat Rick McCollum drives students around the Outer Campus Loop on the Cat Tran Friday Oct. 17, 2014. Rick usually works Thursdays and Fridays.

As the No. 2 Arizona men’s basketball team kicks off its season, fans will be shouting and McKale Center will be rocking just like every year. No player on the team has had it easy, though. All 16 players on Arizona’s roster have earned their spots on the floor, some with the opportunity to have more playing time than others.

Sitting at the end of the bench are forward Drew Mellon, guard Jacob Hazzard and guard Trey Mason. Although they may be walk-ons, these three athletes play a prime role in the development and excellence of Arizona basketball throughout every season.

“We are in a really good position,” Mason said. “We are not as skilled as a lot of the other guys, but just being able to contribute and work hard in practice, make them better and get a chance to experience the same things that these guys are experiencing.”

Two of the three walk-ons have family ties to college basketball and even attended the same high school. Mason, a 6-foot-2 guard from Loyola High School in Los Angeles, is the son of former UA guard Harvey Mason Jr. Hazzard, a 6-foot guard also from Loyola, is the grandson of late UCLA and NBA legend Walt Hazzard.

Mason had been recruited by the University of Portland and Santa Clara. Hazzard, in addition to Division II and III offers, was being recruited by Division I schools, such as Cornell and Tulane. In the end, both chose Arizona, a decision many might question due to playing time. But the answer was clear for both of them individually and academically.

“It’s an honor,” Hazzard said. “I’m very blessed to be on this team. We work really hard in the offseason in September and October to get ready for this grind.”

Mason echoed his commitment to Arizona, describing how irrelevant the term walk-on is for the team.

“All of the guys accept us as one of them,” Mason said. “They don’t look at us as being any different. No one even says the term walk-on ever. We are all kind of the same.”

Mellon, a 6-foot-6 forward from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., which is also the alma mater of Stanley Johnson, has spent four seasons on the Arizona team. In Mellon’s time, he has seen several different styles of players go by, some of whom were one-and-done players. Yet, Mellon has stayed humble and true to the process.

“Being a walk-on, you just have to work hard and honor the process every day,” Mellon said. “We are not getting in the game that much, but we are trying to prepare [the team]. Just that whole process, freshman year to senior year, I’m honored to be here.”

Although they may not get to play many minutes in games, combining for just 63 total minutes last season, Mason, Mellon and Hazzard are relied on heavily in practice.

“We give it 110 percent every day out there when it comes to defense and guarding,” Hazzard said, describing practice. “Just the little things, like going over screens and trying to make it like a regular game for the guys to see what they are going to see out there. Our job is to simulate the other team, trying to give them the best perspective and most real look possible.”

The walk-ons act as player scouts, mimicking the opponents that Arizona will play in practice.

“We are here an hour before practice going over other teams’ offense, learning their sets so we can simulate those into the practice for our guys,” Mellon said. “You still have to work hard because the practices are our games. You have to prepare the team well, so we can do well in the games.”

Notable NCAA walk-ons include former NBA legend Scottie Pippen, Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek and current Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. Although those in the group said they may never make it to that level, Mellon, Hazzard and Mason said they love playing for Arizona.

“All of the players are willing to listen to us,” Mellon said. “They take our advice and want what’s best for the team. At the end of the day, if we can get a win and we can help out with that a little bit, then we have done our job.”

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Follow Matt Wall on Twitter.

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