Tryouts for the men’s basketball team are only an hourlong. After working out all summer, players who want to make the team as a walk-on have a limited time to showcase themselves.
For Joe Hanel, that opportunity almost didn’t happen.
In the minutes before his tryout began, an assistant coach alerted the paperwork with Hanel’s physical hadn’t been updated. If he wanted to try out, Hanel had to rush to Sage Medical Group to update his physical and get to McGrath-Phillips arena before the hour was over.
Hanel sprinted down Fullerton Avenue as his chance to make the team faded by the minute.
“I had worked so hard, and I just wanted the chance to try and make it,” Hanel said. “If I tried out and didn’t make it that would be one thing. But if I didn’t get to try out, then that’s another thing. I was upset at myself for not getting everything checked out.”
But as Hanel was standing in line, a manager from the men’s team came back to Sage to get him. There had been a misunderstanding. Hanel was allowed to try out after all because his physical was up to date, but only had 30 minutes remaining in that hour.
30 minutes was enough. Hanel, and fellow walk-on David Molinari, are now Blue Demons after beating out 10 other players who tried out. Of DePaul’s 14-man roster, four are walk-ons.
“I’m excited, obviously,” Hanel said. “We’re two days into practice and everybody is working hard. It’s a lot different than high school, obviously. I’m just trying to go out there and work hard, make the other guys work hard.”
“I know I’m not going to get a lot of playing time, but I’m trying to make the other guys better in practice so they can be better on the court,” he said.
The role of a walk-on is just as Hanel described. They have to support their teammates and are often seen cheering at the end of the bench. However, to even make the team, walk-ons work out all summer, improving their game for a spot.
Molinari, a junior guard who played his freshman year at Illinois Wesleyan University, said he attended open gyms with the rest of the team. Potential walk-ons are allowed to work out with the team during open hours.
“I got the ball in my hand as much as I could,” Molinari said. “I also spent the summer in Nashville for an internship so I tried to get in the gym as much as I could to get in shape.”
Hanel, who is the all-time leading scorer at Holy Family Catholic High School in Minnesota, also spent his summer reaching out to walk-ons who have made the team previously. Hanel reached out to junior Peter Ryckbosch and recent graduate Edwind McGhee.
“I just answered any questions he had about time commitments and what it’s like to be a walk-on,” Ryckbosch said. “They’re really personable guys and I think they’ll fit the team really well.”
Now that they’ve made the team, Hanel and Molinari will have to adjust to their roles and to the pace of the college game. Already a few practices into the year, Hanel said he’s noticed the stark difference between the level of athletes on the college level.
“I’ve heard from so many people about the size and the speed of the game are different, and I listened to them, but you don’t really know until you get out there,” Hanel said. “My first open gym with these guys, I got out of it and I didn’t know if I was fit for it. It was bigger than I even imagined.”
But even as they take their time to adjust to the game, Molinari said his new teammates have been more than welcoming. Molinari, who is the son of Nebraska assistant coach and former Blue Demon assistant (1979-1989) Jim Molinari, said the team chemistry is very strong.
“There’s a lot of confidence with this team,” Molinari said. “What I try to do is just be a guy who brings energy and be another piece of the family. They have a great culture.”
“(The culture) is what I’m most impressed by so far,” he added. “I’ve been here just a few days, but it really does feel like a family. They really have made me feel like another one of the guys.”