Avery Benson slouched at his locker, one hand holding a bag of chips, the other fishing around inside it. His phone balanced on his thigh, white wires leading from it up to his earbuds, as he watched the mid-2000s TV show “Jericho” on Netflix.
But his picture of chill didn’t last long before journalists interrupted the Texas Tech walk-on’s binge-watching session.
Walk-ons, non-scholarship players who play mostly on the practice squads, prepared for a lot of downtime during the Final Four while their starting teammates were whisked away to news conferences and TV appearances. But they were able to enjoy their 15 — maybe more like five — minutes of media spotlight.
Fellow Texas Tech walk-on Andrew Sorrells brought a book on consuming behavior instincts from his organizational management class to U.S. Bank Stadium on Thursday, as he did during the earlier rounds. But he left it back at the team hotel Friday.
“They said, ‘All right, open media for the locker room.’ And everyone starts swarming in, and I started to pull out my book,” Sorrells said. “And I started getting asked questions. And then I got asked questions the whole time.
“So I was like, ‘OK, this is new. I guess this is the Final Four.’ Everybody gets asked questions.”
Those queries are mostly about the walk-on experience and how these players accept a role with little to no glory. But any inquiry is exciting for players who maybe have given one or two quotes all year leading up to this.
“I got my first interview. I was kind of nervous because, like, it’s finally my chance,” said Texas Tech walk-on Parker Hicks, who also downloaded the movie “22 Jump Street” to watch during the 1½ hours in the locker room but never had the time.
Auburn’s Myles Parker was able to mix work with pleasure, though. The freshman walk-on had AirPods in and iPhone in hand, FaceTiming his mother driving to Minnesota for Saturday’s semifinal, all while fielding questions.
Parker also wasn’t sitting in his usual locker, displaced because of the crowds surrounding his more prominent teammates for interviews. An arcade game partly blocked some of the other scout team guys’ lockers on the opposite wall.
“I’m a little tucked away, but I’m just sort of glad to be here,” Auburn’s Thomas Collier said. “I don’t mind, and I get easy access to the game.”
The cramped location at least came with good conversation. Will Macoy, another Tigers walk-on, said the bench players will kill time just hanging out, people-watching and trying to heckle their teammates answering questions. It also allows for privacy to check texts and social media.
Most of these players won’t see game action unless their team is up by 20 points with a minute left to play. But it’s not impossible for a player to graduate from that role, as Michigan State’s Kenny Goins has proved.
Either way, they’ve earned their trip to Minneapolis.
“I really firmly believe this, and I’m not just saying this to be nice to them,” Virginia assistant coach Brad Soderberg said. “They have had a huge impact on the success we’ve had.”