Jack Westerfield and Josh Cunningham – the only two seniors on the University of Dayton basketball team – will be celebrated at midcourt before the Flyers host La Salle in the final home game of the season.
»PREVIEW: La Salle vs. Dayton
»RELATED: Repeating successful habits elusive for Flyers
The pair are different in many ways.
The 6-foot-8 Cunningham is a three-year captain of the team, leads the Flyers in rebounding and is second in scoring. Counting a freshman season at Bradley, he’s played in 102 college games and scored 1,188 points.
Westerfield, a 6-foot-1 walk-on, has played in 20 games over four years and scored 13 points. And yet, his resume’ is just as full as Cunningham’s.
A finance major, his 3.83 GPA is the highest on the team.
He’s also part of a UD scout team — one that includes four players sitting out the season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules — that often beats the starting five in spirited scrimmages in practice.
And then there’s the “Jack and Jimmy Show,” a radio talk show he does every Thursday evening on the campus radio station with Jimmy Hendy, his fellow UD student and St. Xavier High School grad from Cincinnati.
»PHOTOS: Westerfield, Cunningham through the years
“Since I could talk, I’ve really loved talking about sports,” Westerfield said. “And now, for an hour and a half each week, we talk basketball, football, baseball, golf whatever.”
Occasionally, they’ve had guests, everyone from former Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer to celebrated broadcaster George Grande and even Flyers teammate Ryan Mikesell.
“When you play basketball here it’s kind of hard to get into other groups on campus,” he said. “I knew about Flyer Radio, so we tried it this year and it’ been fun.”
Dayton’s Jack Westerfield dribbles against Massachusetts on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, at the Mullins Center in Amherst, Mass. David Jablonski/Staff
In turn, Flyers’ basketball fans got to know more of him last year when head coach Anthony Grant called on him more and more as the season wound down.
The team was struggling toward a final 14-17 mark and there were a couple of disgruntled scholarship players on the bench, one of whom seemed to especially show disinterest.
Finally Grant had had enough during a game at St. Joseph in mid-January.
“There were about nine minutes to go in the game and we were down 15 and not playing too well,” Westerfield said. “I remember I was sitting on the bench talking to Ryan — he was sitting out the season (recovering from hip surgeries) — and all of a sudden Coach Grant calls my name.
“I look at Ryan and go, ‘What? Really?’ and guys are like, ‘Get your (butt) in the game!’”
By the time he took the floor, 7:47 was left.
“I was like, ‘OK, here we go,’” he said. “I wasn’t really nervous. I just played as hard as I can and figured whatever happens, happens. The worst case, if I get benched, well, I’m already there. I figured I had nothing to lose.
“I’d been way more nervous in my first two years when I got in just a few games with like 10 seconds left. I never really like how walk-ons go in like that and everyone just wants you to shoot no matter what. You have a lot of pressure on you then.
“But in this game, with all the time, I could just go out and play. It was completely different.”
He soon got an open look for a three on the baseline and made it, although the shot was waved off because a ref had blown his whistle just before he launched.
“I was like ‘aahh crap!’“ he said. “But I looked at Camron (walk-on Camron Greer) and Ryan and said, ‘The next one’s going in.’”
It did. Then came a steal and finally he closed out the Flyers’ scoring with two free throws in the 81-65 loss.
“Jack has been outstanding,” Grant said on his WHIO radio show Monday night. “The thing I tell the guys is ‘May your greatest ability be your dependability’ and that epitomizes Jack. It’s who he is. He’s a guy you can rely on every single day.”
Grant said Westerfield‘s daily approach sets the standard for the younger walk-ons:
“They see his preparation every day, his headiness every day and they know they have to walk the walk like he does.”
Part of the team
Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher, Camron Greer, Jack Westerfield and Obi Toppin leave the court after a victory against Rhode Island on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, at the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I. David Jablonski/Staff
Westerfield averaged close to 14 points per game at St. Xavier his senior season and though he drew some Division II and III interest, he said he wanted to play in a bigger Division I program.
He said he reached out to Brian Walsh, the assistant director of basketball operations at UD, whom he knew from the two years Walsh had played at Xavier University.
He got an invite to come to a workout, then met coach Archie Miller, after which he said he was told he would be a preferred walk-on the following season should he chose to come to UD.
He would get no scholarship or stipend, but otherwise would be given the same privileges as the scholarship players.
And so, do walk-ons get the same respect from scholarship players that they show each other?
“The better treat us as an equal,” Westerfield said a bit sharply. “And they do. We’re just as much a part of the team as they are and they know that and certainly embrace that.”
Although he only played a minute in one game as a freshman and just three minutes in three games as a sophomore, he said the experience can’t be measured by just a box score.
“I went to two NCAA tournaments, that’s something you dream about as a kid,” he said. “And we went to Spain on our overseas trip, that was awesome.”
Last season Westerfield played 46 minutes in 10 games and this year his numbers have dropped to 19 minutes in six games.
One thing he said has not changed: Running out of the tunnel into a sold-out UD Arena:
“I will say it doesn’t get old. I remember the first time I ran out as freshman I got chills. I figured then that after maybe one or two more times, I’d get used to it. But then we play VCU in the White Out game this year and we ran out and I got the same chills.
“I felt like a freshman again.”
A ‘happy-sad’ night
As a UD walk-on, Westerfield joins a colorful fraternity of other non-scholarship players who have suited up for the Flyers.
Last season’s crowd favorite, Joey Gruden, son of Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden, is now a grad assistant on Chris Mack’s Louisville staff.
Jeremiah Bonsu – the animated walk-on who played in just two games in his UD career – is now a player development intern with the Dallas Mavericks after a season as a grad assistant at Bowling Green.
One of the most fabled walk-ons of recent times was Bobby Wehrli who – because injuries and suspensions decimated the roster – played considerable minutes in 29 games and helped the team advance three games into the NCAA Tournament.
Dayton’s Jack Westerfield, center, warms up before practice on Sept. 26, 2018, at the Cronin Center. David Jablonski/Staff
Over the years there have been walk-ons like Mike Scovic, who did some male modeling, and 4-foot-11 Keith Braswell, the shortest player in Division I basketball who was featured on ESPN.
There have been well-known names like Brian Donoher, son of coach Don Donoher, and Ted Fitz, nephew of UD president Brother Raymond Fitz.
And there was the infamous con man Lashawn Pettus-Brown, who, after UD, ended up going to prison when he used the $220,000 grant the City of Cincinnati gave him to restore an Over-the-Rhine theater on shoes, clothes and trips instead.
As for Westerfield – who next year hopes to find a grad assistant job somewhere while he works on his MBA — he said he’ll be “happy-sad” when he walks onto the floor with his parents and two sisters Wednesday.
“I’m happy with what I’ve done,” he said with a smile. “I played with some great guys and for two good head coaches. I’ve checked all the boxes: scored, rebounded, got an assist, got a steal.
“But truthfully I wish I had four more years of college. I’ve loved it here.“