For some basketball teams, if you’re at the point where walk-ons are on the court, it can only mean one of two things. The one instance, of course, is that the team is winning by so much that the coach wants to dial back the intensity and give the guys at the end of the bench a chance. The other instance is when you’ve run out of healthy scholarship players, and your walk-ons absolutely have to play.
Or, in the recent case of Monmouth, the end of the bench is a constant source of entertainment, whether they enter the game or not.
Cleveland State, though, has, at times taken a different approach to its walk-ons.
Sure, there will still be those guys at the end of the bench that you probably won’t see unless the Vikings are blowing somebody out, which include senior guard Kyhler Fields and freshman Nelson Maxwell.
At the same time, a pair of walk-ons, freshman Daniel Levitt and, most recently, sophomore Tim Hasbargen, and seeing minutes at critical times during the game. And they’re delivering.
The concept of the preferred walk-on isn’t new. The most compelling story of such a case was that of Jerrod Calhoun, who started as a manager under then-head coach Rollie Massimino. Over time, he would work his way onto the Cleveland State roster, eventually making a start against IUPUI in December 2002.
Current head coach Gary Waters has also used preferred walk-ons during his tenure. The most notable one was Breyohn Watson, who started all 34 game for the Vikings during the 2007-08 season, averaging 5.2 points and two rebounds per contest. Tim Kamczyc also began his CSU career as a walk-on, impressing Waters enough to earn a scholarship.
For Levitt, arriving at Cleveland State was an opportunity to prove that he has the talent to compete at the Division I level. The Montreal native has also been working his way back from a knee surgery he underwent in December 2013 during his junior year at New Hampton Prep in New Hampshire.
At the start of the season, Waters has called upon Levitt for some desperately-needed firepower beyond the three-point arc. And slowly but surely, Levitt has answered emphatically.
In fact, the 60-54 win against Loyola-Chicago was primarily due to Levitt’s three-point shot, draining four of them during the contest and finishing with 12 points. That already eclipsed his career high of 11 points, set during the 57-52 win over Rider at the Cancun Challenge.
Hasbargen’s fight for playing time, on the other hand, has been taken him considerably longer. As a freshman, the 6-4 guard out of Munich barely saw the floor, only appearing in five games for the Vikings.
It appeared that his spot would remain at the end of the bench as the season began, playing only sparingly against Malone and Rhode Island and not at all in any of the other games in November.
Then Waters started changing things up in the rotation, and, all of a sudden, Hasbargen found himself on the floor for nine minutes in the 76-65 loss to Toledo, finishing with a two points, assists and steals apiece.
During the Ohio game, as Vinny Zollo and Demonte Flannigan struggled in the frontcourt, Hasbargen brought a peek of sunlight to the otherwise dreary end. In 13 minutes, he scored a career-high nine points and grabbed four rebounds.
To top that, after playing half the Loyola game, Hasbargen proved to be the spark off the bench in CSU’s surprise win at home against Belmont, scoring 10 points, all in the first half, on 4-for-5 shooting.
In the run-up to the season, Waters had not been shy about taking a look at everybody up and down the bench. At the time, few likely expected that would include some of those players not on scholarship.
Now, it appears that Levitt and Hasbargen are making their respective cases for more playing time. This also means that the pressure will be on the players on scholarship to step their game up and win their minutes back. Of course, with Myles Hamilton also in the mix now, the pressure has already been on.
This insurgence from the walk-ons also leaves a number of other questions unanswered, particularly with 6-9 Australian Jono Janssen. Since playing three minutes in the opener against Akron, Janssen has been a fixture at the end of the bench. With Waters making it clear that there’s an opportunity to step up and play, where does he fit in this scheme?
And what of junior Derek Sloan? The 6-6 guard out of St. Ignatius has also been buried on the bench, averaging three minutes per contest. Will Hasbargen and Levitt leave him as the odd man out in the backcourt?