They've made All-Conference, they've played pro ball, they've proven to themselves and to the country that they are big time and that they belong. A long, storied tradition at Gonzaga is alive and well, and now they're coming in greater numbers than ever before. Hoping to follow in the footsteps of recent Zag stars Mark Spink and Ryan Floyd, both leaders of teams that have made deep runs into the NCAA Basketball Tournament and gave new meaning to March Madness for all Zag fans, meet:
Against all odds, with money out of their own pockets, these student-athletes pay their way to GU rather than accept full scholarships elsewhere. They come from high schools large and small, metro city to country town. These are the guys who epitomize what Gonzaga basketball is all about, these are the guys who often become the hearts and souls of a team. They set the example of: "anything is possible."
Per NCAA rules, no college may grant more than thirteen basketball scholarships. When you look at all the high schools and all the high school hoopsters it becomes obvious that a thirteen scholarship limit is going to exclude many worthy athletes. But thankfully that hasn't stopped them. Their goals: to earn a scholarship, to prove the naysayers wrong and be an intregal part of one of the most successful programs in the country.
Don't bet against ‘em.
According to one former walkon whom I spoke to, here's how it works… The walkon will work hard and start to outperform the scholarship player which motivates the scholarship player to pick it up a notch, which causes the walkon to pick it up, and so on, until everybody is giving 110% in practices and subsequently in games. No scholarship athlete wants to be upstaged by a walkon and the walkons are there on a mission and with plenty to prove. It's a formula for success. The improvement of every player is accelerated. Without the quality of walkons Gonzaga has, you might not see the the quality of teams that we've been seeing.
Meet the Walkons who you'll be hearing about and watching this season and, with work and a little luck, for many years to come. They are what makes Gonzaga proud and special. They make Gonzaga uniquely Gonzaga.
Our first installment is--
TYLER AMAYA – 6'6" Wing from Mount Vernon, WA. A teammate of Josh Reisman for the undefeated 3A champions Mount Vernon Bulldogs, Tyler knows what it's going to take to earn that scholarship next year. He knows he must come out firing with both barrels. Asked if he feels there's pressure on him to play harder and better than anyone else, and he quickly says yes and that's what he's planning to do.
Confidence is not lacking in Amaya (pron: A-May-Uh) who blew up in the State 3A Tournament, earning MVP honors after out-playing Cal-bound Erik Bond and UW-bound Jeff Day, including a big time jam over the former that brought the house down. And, get this, he had walking pneumonia, played sick and had lost 20 pounds (175) going into the tournament! "You can't come in timid and scared." Tyler has been working out at a premier gym (Riverside Health Club) with a former Stanford athletic trainer and is over 200 pounds now and climbing. It's all muscle. He's been charting his progress and says it's very noticeable.
He has his inside game down, and he can dunk with the best of ‘em, so he has taken his game to the perimeter recently and although he only shot about nine 3-pointers all year, he made about seven of them. But it's when you mention that Gonzaga loses wings Alex Hernandez and Anthony Reason that Amaya lights up (or smells blood). He sees the door being wide open for a prime opportunity and it's his for the taking. "It's a huge motivation," he says.
Asked to describe his game, Tyler says he's a slasher, loves to take it to the hole. I asked him who he compares his game to and really had no idea, so I reeled off some names of other top wings in Washington and Tyler took the "Bring ‘em on" attitude that's typical of a guy who hasn't lost in a long, long time and doesn't plan to anytime soon.
Nobody on the high school level, and I mean nobody, intimidates this guy. He has a very high regard for Anthony Reason whose talent he describes as "crazy." But back down from him or anyone else? I don't think so.
What does he think of Gonzaga? Amaya had offers from other D1 schools. He passed on them and described GU as "one of the greatest colleges in the west." He knew the coaches from attending Gonzaga's basketball camp, loved the campus, school, current players… Perhaps this should've been titled "How to steal a prospect who has mad game" because that's just what the Zags have done.
Unlike most student-athletes who are solely interested in how much playing time they can get as freshmen, Tyler Amaya is looking at the big picture and likes the redshirt idea since the freshman year is generally the toughest for college students due to the big transition from high school. He also likes it because he can hit the weights everyday and play basketball everyday, and when the 2002-2003 season rolls around, watch out. His mature perspective was refreshing.
After chatting with Tyler, I couldn't help but think we'll be seeing him in The Kennel and the new arena for years to come, that he will accomplish his goals and I wouldn't be surprised if he made All-WCC and became yet another GU walkon legend for others to follow before he's gone.
The fact that Gonzaga is fortunate enough to have him is a testimonial to the school, the coaches, the program, but most of all, the road that's been paved by those who came before.