Both Ross Burns and Andy Maclay are not exactly the most recognizable faces around the world of college basketball. In fact, not everyone at UMass may be able to pick them out of a crowd.
But for 30 seconds both were playing to a national television audience. It has always been a Minuteman tradition to start the senior members of the basketball team on Senior Day. And last Sunday against Temple, the two walk-ons had their moment in the sun.
But the funny thing part about it was that those tuning in came awfully close to never knowing whom they were watching. CBS didn't have their photographs. They expected Mike Babul and Chris Kirkland to assume their regular starting roles. In the end, however, CBS had the photos, and Burns and Maclay had a moment to remember for the rest of their lives.
He's not your run-of-the-mill body at the end of the bench. In fact, he's more of a Rudy story than anything.
It all began when he was a 15-year old boy playing basketball for Greenfield High School. With Amherst just minutes south, Burns found his way to John Calipari's basketball camp, where he would develop his relationship with two former UMass assistant coaches.
"I was pretty close with Bill Bayno and I've known Bruiser [Flint] really well, basically since I was 15-years-old or so, when I used to come up to camp here," Burns said.
After capturing the eye of both coaches, it seemed as though Burns was somehow drawn to UMass. A number of smaller schools recruited him, but his ties were too tight with the Minutemen. So he chose UMass, made the team as a walk-on, and vowed to make the most of his experience.
As a freshman, Burns was a member of the 1995-96 NCAA Final Four team, which featured NBA star Marcus Camby. He may have only played a handful of minutes, but he enjoyed the ride of a lifetime, one which culminated with a Final Four ring and a sense of satisfaction.
"I've had a great time. I went to the Final Four and had some great experiences with some great people," Burns said. "Not all of the guys on the team can say that they went to the Final Four, but I can."
Burns is also not the shy type. In practice he has a tendency to hit most of his outside shots, and then bug Flint about playing time. And when Burns finally made his first regular-season start last Sunday, it had a fitting ending.
"I put him in the GW game [earlier in the year], and we actually ran a play for him. He get's fouled and misses two fouls shots," Flint said. "Before the [Temple] game [which he started], I told him, if we win the tap, don't be afraid. If you're open shoot the ball. He shoots an air ball and he's wide open... national television, too."
Burns missed the shot because his emotions were running rather high. But it was emotion which brought him to UMass, kept him the fan favorite, and had both he and Flint laughing after the game... and if everyone hadn't been watching, that same emotion might have made him try to convince everyone that he was fouled.
He may not be among the top players on his basketball team, but he's the only one with two rings. There's one for the 1996 Final Four, in which he and Burns both took part. But then there's his football rock - the one which he earned as a member of the National Championship team in the fall of 1998.
Maclay possesses a variety of talent on the floor, but he seems to do most of his damage on the field. In fact, he's regarded as the best punter in the history of UMass football - something which the Stroudsburg, Pa. native hopes can help him pursue the next level.
"The [Philadelphia] Eagles' training camp is about 20 minutes from my house," Maclay said. "A couple of people have said to me that it doesn't hurt to just go down there and say 'Hey, could I just have 15 minutes of your time?' I thought about driving around, just trying to get my name out there and see what happens."
Participating in one major collegiate sport is usually more than enough to wear down an athlete, but in Maclay's case, he figures that the less free time he has, the better chance he has of behaving.
"I played four sports in high school," he said. "I was a real energetic kid, so if I didn't have something creative to use my energy for, there was too much time on my hands to get into trouble."
Flint, however, seems to think his 6-foot-4 senior has an ulterior motive for joining the team... or he at least enjoys teasing him about it.
"I always tease him and tell him that he's only on the team for the gear, anyway," Flint said.
Behind his uncanny knack for juggling two major sports, Maclay hides a deep dark secret, or something he would classify as unusual taste in hair styles.
"My hair was yellow [before basketball season], so I couldn't come take the team pictures. I guess they superimposed my head on Mike [Babul]'s body."
But what seems to be no secret is his incredible athleticism and enthusiasm for both of his sports. If only Bobby Knight weren't the only person allowed to punt basketballs...