At the collegiate level of sports, students come from all different backgrounds and paths to lead them to the college they attend. This is especially true for walk-ons.
As a Division I athletic program, the requisite of talent is high at Seton Hall. And as a school that is known for its basketball programs, the demand is even higher.
Both the women’s and men’s basketball teams have freshmen walk-ons for the 2016-17 season. Though their paths are different, they share the same desire to be successful and a passion for Seton Hall basketball.
Ali Fitzgerald and Chanel Jemmott are the two walk-ons for the women’s basketball team this year. Evident from speaking to them, they both hold the desire to improve themselves while playing at the top level for Seton Hall.
Jemmott went to Leon M. Goldstein High School in Brooklyn N.Y., where she was captain of the basketball team as a senior and holds the all-time scoring record for the program. She was recruited by several Division II and Division III schools, but she wanted to strive for higher grounds.
“I felt like I could’ve played at a higher level,” Jemmott said.
As a player who averaged a double-double in high school, and holds school records, it’s hard to blame Jemmott for believing in her abilities.
At first, head coach Tony Bozzella did not know whether or not he would have enough room on his team, but she had a passion for the Hall and tried out anyway. He also received a call from her high school coach, crediting her as a hard-working player, and one who will continue to do so in college. Bozzella said she has done just that in her time at Seton Hall.
Fitzgerald’s process of being a walk-on differs, as she was recruited by Bozella throughout her time at both Canandigua and Penfield High School in New York. Although being offered by schools such as Loyola Maryland, Lehigh and NYU, Fitzgerald felt at home at Seton Hall.
“I liked the location and the school a lot better and I had a relationship with the coaches I didn’t find anywhere else,” Fitzgerald said.
Even though she could not be given a full scholarship, her desire to come to Seton Hall was strong enough to have it remain her first choice. Bozzella knew Fitzgerald was a good player and said that the team is “blessed to have her.”
On the men’s basketball side, Manny Anderson from Franklin, N.J. chose Seton Hall over several highly-touted schools; Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth were all schools on history list. In addition, he also looked into walking onto Lehigh and Rutgers. Seton Hall, however, is the place Anderson felt the most at home.
“After getting a good feel for Seton Hall I really decided this is somewhere I wanted to be,” Anderson said. “I felt like they wanted me to be here [and] I felt like I wanted to be here.”
Sophomore Michael Dowdy Jr. walked onto the Seton Hall team last year as a freshman and said “it’s been a dream come true.”
He leads by example for Anderson and says he would advise him to continue to work hard and keep a positive mindset.
“As long as you work hard, people respect that,” Dowdy Jr. said.
“He told me just to always keep my head up,” Anderson said, who stresses his need to work hard and do as he is told with hopes of getting better each and every day.
Each of these walk-ons expressed incredible gratefulness and excitement in being a part of Seton Hall basketball. Though they had other options with possible scholarships or more recognition, their passion has led them to be a Pirate.
“It means a lot to be a part of a program where everyone’s working hard and encouraging each other with the common goal of winning,” Fitzgerald said.
“To be a part of a family like this is special,” Jemmott added.
As Manny Anderson summed it up, “It means the world. I love it here. People are great, the team is great. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
Keith Egan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Keith_Egan10.