Apr 24, 2015

From Obscurity to Perfection, Basketball Walk-On Has One Shot – and Delivers

By Jake Lapin
For Reporting Texas

With 1:36 left in the game and the Longhorns up by 42 points, Joe Schwartz made his college debut.

Those two minutes on Dec. 16, 2014, represent the freshman walk-on’s Texas basketball career so far. And while brief, they were among his team’s relatively few uplifting moments last season. The once-ranked Longhorns barely made the NCAA tournament. They lost in the first round. Head coach Rick Barnes was fired. It was nothing like the night Schwartz entered the game against Lipscomb University, parked himself outside the three-point line, waited and let fly the shot that made him a momentary legend.


Joe Schwartz, a walk-on for the UT basketball team, prepares to practice at Gregory Gym. Photo by Olivia Starich/Reporting Texas.

Schwartz had been a star at Vanguard College Prep in Waco. He became the school’s all-time leading scorer and twice made All­-State first team — and basketball wasn’t his best sport.

“Joe was a great baseball player in high school and even had interest from smaller colleges across the country,” said Jake Schwartz, his older brother and a sophomore at UT. “I thought he would be a baseball player or just a student at UT. His love for basketball grew during his senior year, and he wanted to pursue his dream of walking on at Texas.”

Will Curtis, Schwartz’s basketball coach at Vanguard, said, “He didn’t play basketball as his primary sport until later in high school. It’s just outstanding how far he has come as a basketball player.”

In Schwartz’s senior season in high school, during the Longhorns’ visit to Waco to face Baylor, Schwartz met with Barnes and some players. Barnes told the 6-­foot-­2 guard he wouldn’t recruit him, but encouraged him to try to walk on.

Schwartz accepted the challenge. He worked out daily over the summer at a facility near campus. He played pick-­up ball with Texas players at Gregory Gymnasium. “He was only 17, so I had to sign his lease and gym memberships just so he could be in Austin,” said Loren Schwartz, his mother.

Schwartz, an advertising major, was living away from home for the first time, pursuing a dream he wasn’t sure would pan out.

“He was not a preferred walk-­on,” Loren Schwartz said, “so he was not officially practicing with the team. They told him that they weren’t making any decisions till after school started, so he was very much hanging in the balance. His chances of making it were very, very slim.”

Curtis would have been surprised if Schwartz gave up. He remembered how Schwartz was pitching in the final inning of his final high school baseball game. With Vanguard down, a foul ball clearly was drifting out of play. Schwartz began to scale the fence in a hopeless yet admirable attempt to catch it. “He knew his career was almost over,” Curtis said. “That’s who he is.”

With the entire Longhorns basketball team returning for the 2014-15 season, and with freshmen Myles Turner and Jordan Barnett coming aboard, Barnes’s roster was full as the season approached.

“When school started in the fall, I was almost certain I was not going to be on the team,” Schwartz said. “Then a few things went my way.”

Two players left the program. Schwartz then began to practice with the squad, but he still wasn’t on the official roster.

On Dec. 16, guard Damarcus Croaker left the team to seek a transfer (he wound up at Murray State in western Kentucky). That opened a spot for Schwartz.

The Longhorns were to host Lipscomb that evening. Barnes approached Schwartz at the pre-game shoot­around.

“Coach asked me how I felt about suiting up, and I told him I would love to,” Schwartz said. “Next thing I knew there was a jersey in my locker before the game.” It was No. 41, a spare. Unlike his teammates, Joe wouldn’t have his name on the back of his jersey.

“Joe called us around 4:30 in the afternoon telling us he was going to suit up,” said Martin Schwartz, his dad. “We actually were not going to that game. I had a big board meeting and my wife had a birthday party.”

Schwartz’s parents dropped everything and made the 90­-minute drive from Waco.

“That was just to see him on the bench,” Loren Schwartz said. “We had no idea he was going to play.”

Schwartz recalled: “Coach asked the walk­-ons if we wanted to play, and we all said ‘yes.’ He told us to get ready because it was very likely. It took me until halftime to realize I was going to probably get in the game.”

With about six minutes left, Texas leading by 35, Barnes started inserting other walk-­ons. “That’s when I started to get nervous,” Schwartz said. “The clock started ticking down, and when it got to two minutes, my palms were sweating and my heart was beating really fast. All I was thinking about was getting into the game.

“Finally, at the next dead ball, coach called my name and then the announcer called my name,” Schwartz said. “We ran a play to get the ball inbounds. I saw an open gap on the wing and decided to fill it. There was not much time on the shot clock, so I knew if I got the ball I was going to shoot it, because coach Barnes hates when walk­-ons turn the ball over. Ryan (McClurg) passed me the ball, and I shot it.”

He had let the ball go from behind the three-­point line.

“I thought it was long at first,” Schwartz said, “and when it went in, it felt like my heart stopped.”

The bench erupted. Myles Turner jumped around like he had won the lottery. The kid in the nameless No. 41 jersey, who wasn’t on the roster a few hours earlier, had hit a three ­pointer like it was nothing.

“Greatest moment of my life so far,” Schwartz said.

Heading into next season, his career college totals are one game, one shot, one three­-point basket.

“The efficiency and percentages are real good right now,” Loren Schwartz said.

By season’s end, Schwartz wore No. 25. He hopes to earn a scholarship and more playing time. But no matter what he does as No. 25, he and his family will remember the night he wore No. 41.