Quick: When was the last time the NBA's potential No. 1 overall pick was also a walk-on? Has it ever happened before?
Until this season, probably not. But that's the case at Connecticut, where Andre Drummond and the Huskies revealed that the No. 2-ranked recruit in the class of 2011 was indeed paying his own way -- thanks to the kind of "non-institutional" loans you and I took out when we were in college -- as a freshman this season.
Why go walk-on? When Drummond committed to the Connecticut Huskies late this summer, he created a scholarship crunch at the program, which had lost scholarships thanks to the NCAA committee on infractions's decision in the Nate Miles recruitment scandal, as well as the Huskies' substandard Academic Progress Rate. With Drummond joining so late in the calendar, there simply wasn't room to add him without taking a scholarship away from someone else. That someone was redshirt freshman Michael Bradley, who UConn said volunteered to give up his scholarship and become a walk-on himself.
That move elicited howls of criticism, and rightfully so. Here was Calhoun and Connecticut taking a player's scholarship -- or allowing him to "volunteer" it, if you prefer -- and giving it to another player simply because that player was more talented. Bradley's background as the product of a hard-knock childhood, part of which was spent in the Tennessee Baptist Children's Home, didn't help the perception. (That low-income background allowed Bradley to qualify for other forms of financial aid, which was part of the justification for the decision, but "hey, he's poor enough to get other aid, he doesn't need the scholarship!" didn't exactly sound much better, did it?)
In the end, the scholarship restrictions imposed on the Huskies by the NCAA for both NCAA violations and bad grades proved feckless. UConn still got its man. The only thing that changed were Bradley's finances. It was one of the more cynical stories of the 2011 season, the kind of loathsome mess that makes your skin crawl.
At least, it seemed that way. Instead, as we know now, it may be one of the more heartwarming. Drummond's comments to the New London Day, which first reported the story Wednesday, showcase a reasonable, down-to-Earth dude who didn't like the idea of taking something his teammate had worked for. So guess what? The star freshman, with the insistence of his family, decided to take out loans and become a walk-on instead.
"I'm thankful for what Mike was trying to do for me," Drummond said Tuesday. "I told Mike, 'Don't do that, man. I'll pay my way and take a scholarship next year. You don't have to give up a scholarship for me.'
"It was my decision. That's not fair to him. He worked hard to get that scholarship. I'm not going to take something from somebody that's not mine. It was my decision to come late."
Drummond's decision makes sense for all sides. He will surely be able to pay back this year's student loans when he leaves for the NBA, which could be as soon as next spring; Drummond is a surefire lottery pick who'll soon be able to afford much more than books, room and board. Bradley gets to keep his scholarship, rather than lose it to poor timing, NCAA penalties he had nothing to do with and the cold calculus of elite-level college basketball. And Connecticut, for what it's worth, gets to save a little face. Win-win-win.
Of course, there are still some lingering questions here. For example, it seems Bradley and Drummond both entered the year uncertain of what their financial situation would be. If that were the case, why did UConn make Bradley the public face of the situation? At the very least, why didn't they let everyone know -- especially after getting hammered for the decision in the offseason -- that, hey, guess what, Bradley didn't really lose his scholarship, Drummond's actually taking out a loan, and so on? The reason for the timing of this news appears to be "because Andre admitted to the media that he was a walk-on," but why did it take that long?
But that stuff feels like semantics. On a basic level, this was the right thing to do. Given the way the situation unfolded this summer, and what we've sadly come to expect in college sports as a whole, Bradley remaining on scholarship represents a refreshing change of pace. And just in time for Christmas, too. How great is that?