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Walk-ons can make an impact


When talking about walk-ons, we're talking about a kid who dreams of playing in a big-time program. He may even turn down scholarship offers to mid-majors or lower Division I schools. The young man wants to be part of a big-time environment. With hard work and the right attitude, he can make it into the lineup.

Kentucky walk-on Ravi Moss played pivotal minutes against North Carolina.
Think about Kentucky sophomore guard Ravi Moss. How special it had to be to get the call from coach Tubby Smith to play pivotal minutes against North Carolina. That's right, Moss got in during crunch time in the battle of the two winningest programs in Division I history.

Moss played 10 key minutes, scoring four points (hitting both his shots) and grabbing three rebounds. As he gets older and tells his grandchildren about the game, each play will get better and better!

At Ohio State, walk-on Nick Dials, a freshman guard, not only started Sunday against Texas Tech but also was the team's leading scorer with 15 points.

At Indiana, starting guard Ryan Tapak (a 6-2 junior) spent two seasons as a walk-on, seeing limited action before being awarded a scholarship prior to this season. He has paid some dividends for coach Mike Davis, including eight key points in 23 minutes in a win over Notre Dame.

The General, Texas Tech coach Robert Montgomery Knight, showed he can still dominate the Big Ten. Knight's Red Raiders beat Iowa (in Dallas), Minnesota and Ohio State in a span of less than two weeks!

Winning over his alma mater, Ohio State, in Buckeye Country had to be special. The winning ways against Big Ten foes continue for Knight, who won plenty of Big Ten games -- and three national titles -- when he was the coach at Indiana.

When looking at the Pac-10 race, Arizona and Stanford stand out as the cream of the crop. So which school will make a move for the league's third NCAA berth? Right now, I feel the Pac-10 is looking at just three bids to the Big Dance ... only time will tell.

Coach Ben Howland is already having an impact in his first season at UCLA. Howland has the Bruins playing winning basketball in opening 2-0 in the Pac-10. UCLA had an impressive home win over Oregon and senior forward Luke Jackson.

The return of senior forward T.J. Cummings (from academic ineligibility) has made a difference already for UCLA. Freshman forward Trevor Ariza is maturing quickly as a diaper dandy. Remember, UCLA lost Jason Kapono (completed eligibility) and Andre Patterson (transferred to Tennessee).

Coach Jamie Dixon of Pittsburgh and coach Jim Boeheim of Syracuse finally leave their respective states.

Pittsburgh has played a neutral game at Madison Square Garden in the opener against Alabama, followed by 13 straight games in Pennsylvania (12 at home, one at Duquesne). The Panthers visit Miami on Jan. 10.

Syracuse goes to Missouri on Jan. 12, its first contest out of New York. The Orangemen will have played 11 home games and one at St. Bonaventure.

I've spoken to a number of coaches who have told me that Vanderbilt is for real. Last weekend's 35-point win at TCU sent a real message. I feel that Vanderbilt has the SEC's best all-around player: senior forward Matt Freije.

Meanwhile, Mississippi State fans are looking forward to Kentucky's invasion of Starkville on Jan. 13. The Bulldogs are playing solid basketball, and coach Rick Stansbury's club has hung tough despite being hurt by the NBA draft early-entry losses of Mario Austin and recruit Travis Outlaw.

The Bulldogs have one of the best 1-2 combinations (junior forward Lawrence Roberts, the transfer from Baylor, and senior guard Timmy Bowers). Mississippi State needs more development from 7-foot junior Marcus Campbell inside and more scoring from senior forward Branden Vincent (6.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg).

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