What happened to Eric Valentin Tuesday was pretty much the dream of 99 percent of those who played basketball at the high school level at some point in their life.
The 5-foot-4 senior walk-on was surprised with a scholarship by head coach Brian Wardle, a gesture of appreciation from the program for Valentin’s undeniable work ethic and positive attitude.
"I call him the Mayor of Campus,” Wardle said. “He's so well-liked and has a huge heart. He’s a small kid, but he's a 7-footer when it comes to his personality."
In fact, Valentin’s listed at 5-4, but if you look at the video below, even that might be a stretch, making his accomplishment all the more impressive. Wardle said his decision was made to give Valentin this opportunity at the end of last season, which was Wardle’s first as head coach of the Phoenix; he’d been an assistant at the program for the previous five years.
"We have a very young team this year,” Wardle said. “We have 12 scholarships and I didn't want to bring in a class of six, so with that 13th scholarship laid over, I knew wanted to give it to [Valentin]. I knew there was no doubt about it -- he'd appreciate that scholarship more than anyone. He's the best walk-on I’ve ever been around."
Wardle, 32, made a point that Valentin was never promised a scholarship -- nor did he expect one. Like so many bench players, Valentin's become a fan favorite in Green Bay in the past year. On the phone, Wardle and I joked, in that town, it’s Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Greg Jennings … then probably Valentin.
Wardle and Valentin first met a little more than a year ago, when Wardle got the head gig with the Phoenix. Valentin sat in the new coach’s office, and the two had a 30-minute conversation. Wardle immediately knew he wanted Valentin on his team, in the program in some facet or another. Wardle tells the story of Valentin’s first impression when he speaks publicly.
"What I love is the video, and if you watch it you see how much he appreciates the scholarship and how it's a privilege to play Division I college basketball,” Wardle said. “A lot of these kids these days take for granted scholarships, like they're handing them out everywhere."
Valentin made headlines last year after he set the world record for most half-court shots made in a minute.
The part about the story I love is that Valentin adapted in a new town (he’s from Ovieto, Fla.) to earn an in-state internship over the summer -- something he thought he'd have to do to pay his way through his senior year of school. He landed an 8-to-6 gig with the United States Department of Agriculture, something Wardle ribs him about in the video below, right before handing him his new full-time job.
As for the team, it’s going to be an interesting year in Green Bay. The expectations aren’t as high for the hoops team as the Packers, primarily because of the age issue.
"We are very, very young,” Wardle said. “I don't know if there are any other teams that are as young as us. Every player in our program is in their second year or the first year."
Alec Brown, a key 7-foot sophomore, has logged more minutes than anyone on the team.And now, your day gets better, because feel-good basketball videos don't come much warmer than this. Valentin getting his scholarship: