Walk-on forced to walk away
By Ron Chimelis, The Springfield Union-News, 2/14/2000

While the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team was playing Xavier in Cincinnati Saturday, Darryl Denson was home in Springfield, wondering where he was headed next.

Darryl Denson
Courtesey: UMass
Until this month, Denson was a junior walk-on guard with the Minutemen, a player with a uniform, but no scholarship and scarce playing time. He was extremely popular with his teammates and a favorite of coach Bruiser Flint, who saw in Denson a willing practice player with an irresistible personality.

But Denson is not only off the team, he's out of school because when the university bill came around, he couldn't pay it. As a member of the Army National Guard, Denson was receiving government tuition aid, but the deal didn't include housing and other miscellaneous costs.

This month, those costs came due, and Denson, a Central High School graduate, said he couldn't afford them.

"If I wasn't playing basketball, I could have commuted," the 6-foot, 194-pounder said. That would have eliminated the housing cost, he said.

"The people in the basketball program always said if I had a money problem, to come to them," he said. "That's where I was hoping to get some money, but it didn't happen."

Flint likes Denson a lot and attends the same church as Denson's parents. But the coach said by the time he found out about Denson's financial problems, it was too late because the debt had been building for some time, and the school would wait no longer.

"We just can't give someone money in the middle of the year," Flint said. "We had talked about helping him, but we thought he was OK for this year. I didn't find out until after we got back from Virginia Tech (Jan. 30)."

Flint said it may have been hard to help Denson even at the start of the academic year, because there was some doubt about the player's academic eligibility at that point.

But Denson lifted his grades, and Flint still plans to help him find a job and resume his education.

"He's thinking about basketball, but I told him one thing at a time," the coach said.

Flint says Denson could have remained on the team as a commuter, though the coach agreed that is hardly ideal. He also feels that rather than add to Denson's financial burden, being on the basketball team helped him by giving him access to academic help and until this semester a little longer to work on his financial situation.

Denson does not sound upset or angry, only confused about what will happen next.

"I have to try to get back in school (in September), but I don't know if it will be UMass," he said. "It's just too expensive. And there's not much that can be done for this year."

Denson was one of two UMass walk-ons from Central this season. The other, senior Dwayne Early, remains with the team.

Denson, 22, whose cousin is former Notre Dame tailback Autry Denson, played one college season at Sacred Heart, averaging nine points per game before transferring to UMass in spring 1997. Prior to college, he had averaged nearly 20 points per game as a senior at Central, then spent a year at Milford Academy in Connecticut.

Last season, he played in only two games, but carried one unique distinction: he led UMass in field goal percentage, making two of the three shots he took. This season, he had played in four games, scoring five points on 2-for-9 shooting in 13 minutes.

He admits his limited playing status was beginning to wear on him, even though his role was always clear.

"I want to play," he said. "I don't know how much more of it I could have taken. I don't know what it's like anymore to play in a game, score some points and be in a big spot."

Denson's last UMass road trip didn't go well, for reasons that had nothing to do with finance.

"I had a very bad flu, and I wasn't eating," said Denson, who flew home after the Jan. 27 game at Duquesne, while the team went on to Virginia Tech. "I felt hot and sweaty, and I was coughing up phlegm. I had to go have it treated."

When the second semester began, Denson was gone for good. He says he doesn't plan to make the Army a career, but he wants to finish college hopefully as a basketball player, not a benchwarmer.

"I have a year left, and I want to play," he said. "I miss being around the guys at UMass, but when you don't play, it's a different feeling. I want to know what it's like again to be in a game."

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