For many fans, the walk-ons are an afterthought. A group of players who rarely see the floor, rarely have their names mentioned, and almost never crack the starting lineup.
Overall, these assumptions are pretty accurate. After all, walk-ons are less recruited than their scholarship peers and join rosters where they have to earn every single minute of action. While players on scholarship are given the benefit of the doubt, walk-on players have to show that they belong and deserve to get limited, if any playing time.
This situation is pretty similar in Ann Arbor, where the Michigan Wolverines are looking for a rebound season. After qualifying for four straight and five of the previous six NCAA Tournaments, the Wolverines were unable to continue that success into last season and finished with an underwhelming 16-16 record.
With the return of star players like Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Jr., there is plenty of optimism for Michigan this season. In fact, the Wolverines appeared in the top 25 in Today’s U preseason rankings and are considered to be a dark horse Big Ten title contender.
Read about why Michigan’s hype is not just about Caris LeVert this season.
However, one group of Wolverines that expect to have a key role heading into this coming season are Michigan’s walk-ons. With so many key returners and additions to this year’s Wolverines team, it’s hard to see any of the walk-ons seeing much playing time, but that doesn’t mean the impact of Michigan’s walk-ons won’t be felt this year.
That role, which will be to help prepare the scholarship players for action, will be particularly important for this Michigan team. The roster and anticipated starting lineup should have a lot more experience than last year, but it’s still a young team that will need to find its groove.
The walk-ons have embraced this role as well. Junior forward Sean Lonergan said that although “this is a deep team with a lot of skilled players,” that he’s hoping to work with “the scout team and get the best effort” on the floor this season. Though few fans or media members talk about the scout team very often, the scout team is vital in developing the roster and its players.
Along with this, the walk-ons are also set to take some key leadership roles this year. After all, the Wolverines have plenty of underclassmen in key roles this season, including potential starters in Aubrey Dawkins and Ricky Doyle.
Junior guard Andrew Dakich said that he “understands his role” with Michigan’s team this year and is still working on “being a more vocal leader” this season. This is a group that can help keep others motivated, help younger players develop, and keep the intensity level up for the entire team.
That’s not something that should be easily overlooked.
One other minor area where Wolverine fans will get a chance to check out some of Michigan’s walk-ons this season will be cheering from the team’s bench. The group has earned the label as the “Bench Mob” in years past and their dance moves certainly merit at least a mention. It certainly helps invigorate the rest of the team and the fanbase during game action.
Although it’s hard to argue that any of Michigan’s walk-ons will be getting too many serious minutes this season, they are the heart of the team. Players like Andrew Dakich and Sean Lonergan are not going to be the guys getting the game winning shot or leading the team in scoring, but they are the players that will determine if the Wolverines can keep trending upward and compete as a team this season.
All told, that seems like one heck of a role on a top 25 team.