The Fordham Ram: I guess the first thing I want to know is why you would devote all this time and energy to essentially being a guy that just practices?
Leo Walsh: I thought about that a few times, even when I made the team and I was considering whether I was going to do it or not. I was talking to my dad and I was like, ‘is it really worth it?’ It’s a lot of time, and I’m not going to get much out of it basketball-wise, but I think it’s just an opportunity that you can’t pass up. If in 20 years I looked back and I passed up the opportunity to play Division I basketball — to play in the Carrier Dome, to play at Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center — I’d just regret my college career.
TFR: When we talked last year you said that you thought playing pick-up games in the Lombardi Center helped you get better because there were no coaches yelling at you, but now you joined the team, and there are coaches yelling at you again.
LW: I still don’t think my game has improved since I made the team. I’ve certainly gotten stronger and maybe a little smarter, basketball-wise. [In practice] I would just sort of stand on the sidelines and clap for most of the time. If I was in practice, I would just go in for a possession or two, to give a guy a breather. I was playing [in Lombardi] this morning, and it’s just so much easier when you’re by yourself. I don’t know; it’s a confidence thing, I guess. It’s mostly my own fault, that I don’t have confidence. Even in high school I was never really very confident.
Walsh’s rise from court sweeper during games to walk-on made him one of the more popular players on the team. (Photo Courtesy of Joshua Kim/The Ram)
TFR: What was the relationship with your teammates like, joining in midseason?
LW: It was kind of awkward. [Before I joined the active roster] I would sit up [in the stands] and watch when I couldn’t practice. I don’t even know if they knew who I was. They just saw this guy on the bleachers. Someone thought I was a reporter doing a story on them. When I first joined it was still awkward. It wasn’t comfortable by any means. But, it got easier as time progressed, especially with the walk-ons—DC [Gaitley], Nihad [Musovic], Khalid [Robinson] and Matt [Massimino]. This year was much easier, just because I was more comfortable.
TFR: Senior Day, I saw you were trying to play it cool.
LW: I was trying.
TFR: But what was it like getting the start and seeing yourself on the video board?
LW: The video was cool. That was something I never even thought of. We didn’t have those before this year.
TFR: When [Ryan] Canty started his first game of the year, he was watching his intro video the whole time.
LW: It’s hard not to. Even in the huddles I would look up to see the Fan Cam to see if my friends were dancing. But, Senior Night was awesome. I remember when I was sweeping, I think it was my sophomore year, Ryan Hage was a senior. His Senior Night, I think they won, they beat UMass maybe. [Ed. note: Fordham lost to Temple on Senior Night in 2012, but beat UMass in the season finale in 2011, when Hage was a junior.] I remember seeing him with his friends, getting carried off the floor. That’s awesome. I was still thinking of trying out for the team at that point, and I was thinking, if that could happen to me, or something anywhere close to that, that would be awesome. I think my Senior Night rivaled that, in terms of — I don’t know, it was just an awesome thing for my friends and family.
TFR: But GW didn’t waste any time. They got the ball right to Isaiah Armwood in the post.
LW: I think that was the worst-case scenario, getting a foul and an and-one, but he missed the free throw, which was good. It was funny. I think it was 26 seconds, maybe 27 seconds [before they took me out].
TFR: The team doesn’t have a lot of height, so they had you playing forward. How did you feel about that?
LW: I think I’m too small to be a forward, but too slow to be a guard. It definitely made me stronger. I don’t know if I’m better offensively in the post, because I never really try to do anything offensively in the post. I normally get it and I don’t know what to do, because the other guys are six-foot-eight-inches or six-foot-nine-inches. I think defensively I’ve definitely improved, because I’ve gotten stronger and stuff like that. I didn’t mind.
TFR: I saw you made the A-10 Honor Roll. What is it like balancing academics and basketball?
LW: I feel like it’s easier. Now basketball is over and I’m so good at procrastinating. In high school I had cross country, right into basketball, right into track, so I always was kind of busy. I think my grades have improved since I joined the team. Freshman and sophomore year I didn’t do great, not that I wasn’t studying.
TFR: There has been a lot of talk recently about amateurism and the NCAA. You’re what the NCAA would like every college athlete to be like. You’re just a student who likes to play basketball. Have you ever given that any thought?
LW: With me not being on scholarship, it takes all the pressure off me. If I was on scholarship I would feel like I should be in the gym all the time, shooting, getting extra work. I don’t know how I feel about players getting paid. Because, yeah, it is a job, but I have to look into it more. I know Jay Bilas has really opened the door to that. I’d love to get paid, obviously, but it’s tough.
TFR: On Senior Night, there were those guys with cut-outs of your head. NCAA rules don’t allow you to profit off your likeness. If you were considered a professional, you could have sold those.
LW: Yeah, but who would buy those?
TFR: I think a lot of people would have bought them.
LW: Actually, I was in Howl last night and a girl walked in and she had a FatHead of me. I had never met her, never seen her. She was like, “Oh my god, this is you.” She said she just found it.
TFR: How about the “We want Leo” chant? That was at almost every game.
LW: It’s good when we’re winning, but when we’re losing by 40, 30, 20, I have to imagine [head coach Tom] Pecora hates it. I think it was [assistant coach Tom] Parrotta that did most of the work getting me in. At St. Joe’s, a lot of my family was there behind the bench and they had a FatHead of me. I think we were down 15 and I think Parrotta nudged Pecora. I mean, the game isn’t completely out of reach. I ended up scoring and I think Parrotta looked back at my dad and nodded his head.
TFR: Do you think playing basketball has helped at all with your post-graduation prospects?
LW: Definitely. I’m looking into something now that the Atlantic 10 sponsors. It’s called Sport Changes Life. There’s a program in Ireland where you get your master’s degree and you play basketball for this Irish team and you mentor younger kids. I know there’s a kid from St. Joe’s who graduated last year who’s doing it and a girl from Boston College. If I could do that, that would be really cool, getting my master’s while still playing basketball and teaching, which is kind of what I might want to do. That’s all through basketball. And, other than that, just all the connections that these guys have—Pecora, [assistant coach Mike] DePaoli, Parrotta—it will definitely help, and the alumni too.
TFR: You mentioned you were in Lombardi before, and I guess you’ll go back there and play pick-up. Are the guys going to treat you any differently?
LW: That’s where I met a lot of my friends, freshman and sophomore year, so it was no different. I get some shit from them like making fun of me. I played intramurals too, and sometimes the ref wouldn’t let me play. It’s just fun to play with your friends.