Anyone who loves college basketball recognizes the importance of walk-ons. No other college sport gives walk-on student-athletes more respect.
Fans chant the names of walk-ons at the end of games, hoping they get to see action. Arenas erupt with applause and benches explode with jubilation when they score.
In some cases, the non-scholarship players earn as much fame as the scholarship players. That has been the case with the Dayton Flyers for a long time but especially in recent years.
There was Bobby Wehrli, the walk-on turned scholarship player who helped save the 2015-16 team, and Jeremiah Bonsu, the walk-on who became a published author for The Players’ Tribune, and then Joey Gruden, the son and nephew of NFL head coaches who blazed his own path at UD and made one of the most memorable baskets of the 2017-18 season.
Dayton seems to have one popular senior walk-on every season. This season, that player is Jack Westerfield, a 6-foot-1 guard out of Cincinnati St. Xavier High School. He was the rare walk-on who saw meaningful action last season, appearing in 10 games and scoring a total of eight points in 46 minutes.
Westerfield will be on the bench at 7 p.m. Friday as his fourth and final season with the Flyers begins. Dayton plays Capital in an exhibition game at UD Arena.
“I’m not really sure what my role is going to be, but whatever it is, I’m ready to do it,” Westerfield said. “Playing last year some was good, just in case I have to again. I’ll just play hard in practice every day and continue to get better.”
Westerfield plans to attend grad school next year and study business. He also hopes to land a graduating assistant job somewhere, following in the footsteps of Gruden, a 2018 UD graduate who’s a first-year grad assistant on Chris Mack’s staff at Louisville, and Bonsu, a 2017 UD graduate who worked as a grad assistant at Bowling Green last season and now is a player development intern with the Dallas Mavericks.
“I’m so happy for Joey to be in Louisville and Jeremiah to be with the Mavericks,” Westerfield said. “It’s so cool.”
Both of those players were well known for their fun reactions on the bench to big plays by their teammates. Westerfield, who’s joined by sophomore walk-on guard Camron Greer, plans to continue that tradition. Dayton had walk-on tryouts earlier in the fall, and it’s still possible a third walk-on will join the roster.
As for the 2018-19 Flyers, Westerfield is excited to see what they can do.
“I think this team is very energetic and outgoing,” he said. “The biggest thing is we all like each other. We’re all friends on and off the court. We know how to play together. I saw we were picked sixth in the A-10. We’ll prove what we’ve got to prove, but I think it’s going to be a really good year and we’re all looking forward to it.”