The life of a walk-on attempting to make a Division I college basketball team is filled with obstacles and adversity. These players did not come out of high school with hype, loads of accolades and top programs drooling over their jump shot. Most walk-ons are undersized players who need to work on their game to find one of the few opportunities there are to make the team.
With all of those problems stacked against him, Seton Hall junior Michael Dowdy Jr. rose above it all and is now living out his college basketball dreams with the Pirates.
Just before Seton Hall would open its season in Newark against Dartmouth, head coach Kevin Willard and his staff brought Dowdy onto the team.
After playing four years of varsity basketball in high school, first at Providence St. Mel followed by University of Chicago Laboratory, Dowdy was looking for opportunities at the college level.
Despite being named first-team All-Conference as a senior and helping the University of Chicago Laboratory to the regional championship in the state playoffs, he found himself with little to choose from in college basketball.
The chance he did get came in the form of an academic scholarship from Seton Hall. Dowdy took the opportunity and, as soon as he stepped foot on South Orange’s campus, began to work toward his ultimate goal—playing Division I college basketball.
“It was a really long journey. I got here as a freshman and I started working out with the big dream of making the team,” Dowdy said. “The day that I stepped foot on campus, I was in the gym working on trying to get bigger and stronger.”
Dowdy worked out whenever he could, but was not able to reach his goal as a freshman.
“I tried out the first year and didn’t make it,” Dowdy said. “I got called up and tried to get a place on the team, but because of my academic scholarship I couldn’t play my first year.”
The summer before his sophomore year, Dowdy went home to Chicago and worked out with his cousin and trainer Jonathan. For the entire summer, Dowdy worked to improve his game and body.
However, when he came back to Seton Hall as a sophomore, he would experience a similar result.
“Sophomore year, same thing. As soon as I set foot on campus I worked out,” Dowdy said. “I made it my second year, but there were some things with my schedule that didn’t work out with theirs.”
Last summer, Dowdy repeated his process. He went home to Chicago and continued to work and push toward his goal. When Dowdy came back this time for his junior year, he would finally be rewarded.
“I go back again, another summer working out and trying to get better,”Dowdy said. “I got the call this year and all of my work finally paid off, so it was really great.”
A walk-on making a Division I college basketball team is one thing, but playing in a game is something not many get to experience.
Dowdy made his debut against Dartmouth in Seton Hall’s opener. The 5-foot-10-inch guard would play just two minutes—two minutes he will never forget, though.
“Oh man, it was a dream come true,” Dowdy said with a big smile on his face. “I had a flashback to all of the work I was putting in. It was really great.”
Seton Hall was dealing with multiple injuries in the backcourt, which caused Willard to play Dowdy for a short period of time in the opener. After the Dartmouth win, Willard talked about the newest Pirate.
“We found Mike, and he is a tough kid,” Willard said. “He could see more playing time, but he is a Bio major and takes tough classes during practice.”
Dowdy, who told The Setonian he is actually a Chemistry major, has a rigorous class schedule. In years past, this hurt Dowdy’s chances of achieving his dream, but now he can balance basketball and course work. However, it is easier said than done.
“It is crazy. I don’t really get too much sleep, but it is worth it because it is a dream of mine,” Dowdy said. “Obviously, I am a student first. I am a student-athlete.”
The junior guard sets goals for each semester, writes them down and keeps them in his room so he can view them each day. It allows him to stay focused on what is important to him, which are his classes and basketball.
Dowdy’s role on the team is one that might not be recognized much during the game, but is one that his new coaches and teammates clearly appreciate.
“Mike is great. He has been with us for a week and coach [Willard] trusts him enough to put him in the game,” guard Isaiah Whitehead said. “He has been a great energy guy and [at practice] never lets us take a play off. We need guys like that in practice that know their role and take pride in it.”
Dowdy, who guards the Seton Hall starters at practice, cherishes his place on the team despite knowing he will not play much this season.
“The reason I am here is to try and make everybody else better at practice,” Dowdy said. “I am here to work hard every day and push other players to make sure they are getting better. If I do play, that’s great. But at the end of the day, I know what I am here for and know my role.”
Everyone loves an underdog story, and Dowdy epitomizes that spirit.
Seton Hall is loaded with players who have traveled an easier road to make the team because of the hype that surrounded them out of high school.Dowdy’s teammates appreciate what he has accomplished already and have welcomed him with open arms.
“First week, I got in and had to prove myself to them and make them see that I actually belonged,” Dowdy said. “After that first week, they started warming up to me a little more, and at this point we are pretty much like family.”
Sean Saint Jacques can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @SSaintj7.