From Mopping to Dribbling: An Unexpected Path to the Court

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Elizabeth Zanghi/The Ram Leo Walsh, FCRH ’14, worked as event staff, mopping the court at Fordham basketball games before joining the team.

Elizabeth Zanghi/The Ram Leo Walsh, FCRH ’14, worked as event staff, mopping the court at Fordham basketball games before joining the team.

By DAN GARTLAND

On Nov. 29, when the Fordham men’s basketball team took on Manhattan College in the Rose Hill Gym, junior Leo Walsh was sitting beneath the basket on the south end of the court in his yellow event staff t-shirt, holding a mop to clean the sweat off the floor. Six weeks later, when the Rams played host to Duquesne, he was about thirty feet away, on the end of the Fordham bench, wearing a uniform.

A Google search for information on Walsh’s high school days does not turn up much, unlike that of his teammates, Bryan Smith and Jeffery Short, who were regularly featured in The New York Post. Walsh is quick to admit he was not an outstanding player at Scranton Prep but credits the countless hours he spent in the Lombardi Center playing pickup games, honing his skills.

“I wasn’t a great high school player,” Walsh said. “I wasn’t really confident… I’ve always loved basketball, and freshman year, when I started playing in Lombardi and meeting new people, there were no coaches screaming at me and I was able to play without worrying about anything.”

Jonathan DeAssis, FCRH ’14, one of those players Walsh played with at the Lombardi Center, says it was clear that Walsh was on another level.

“He’s clearly a lot better than everyone else who plays there,” DeAssis said. “I played on an intramural team with him before, and he didn’t really try that hard but still scored 20 or 25 points whenever he wanted to.”

Eventually, Walsh progressed to the point where he considered trying out for Fordham’s varsity team.

“When we would play at Lombardi, people would tell me, ‘Hey, you should try out,’” he said.  “My parents were encouraging me to try out. Watching every game [as event staff], I think, encouraged me to really try it out and test my skills against the guys.”

Walsh tried out in September but was not offered a spot on the active roster. Instead, he was invited to join the team as a practice player. But his classes interfered with the practice schedule, so he came to practice whenever he was able to and sat in the bleachers, observing. Once classes let out in early December, the week before Fordham played St. John’s, Walsh began practicing with the team. After the St. John’s game, Fordham guard Devon McMillan announced he was leaving the team, opening up a spot on the active roster. A few weeks later — some time after New Year’s Eve, Walsh said — he was asked to join the active roster. His first game in uniform was the Duquesne game and he now travels with the team to all their games. Though he is unlikely to see action in any games, he still has a role on the team.

“[The other walk-ons and I] are trying to play as hard as we can in practice, to push everyone and make them as game-ready as possible,” Walsh said.

Walsh says being a member of a varsity sport has made him realize what a tremendous time commitment student-athletes make and see how tough it is for them to balance schoolwork and athletics.

“I definitely respect student-athletes more, now,” he said. “I always just thought, ‘Oh, well they get all the perks and everything.’ I have two roommates who are on the soccer team and I really respect what they’ve done for the past three years, now.”

One thing Walsh has not had to sacrifice is his spot under the basket with the mop.

“I still do the women’s games,” he said. “So I get a little bit of the best of both worlds.”