MHERST - It doesn't look like fun.
Dwayne Killings is spending a good portion of Wednesday morning's basketball practice biting his fingernails, leaning on the standard that holds up the net, talking with fellow walk-on Dwayne Early while watching his teammates run through drills.
A year ago, Killings, a former standout two-guard at Amherst Regional High School, figured his hoops career was over. As a freshman at Hampton University in Virginia, he tried to work out with that school's basketball team in hopes of walking on. But by his own admission he wasn't in great basketball shape at the time.
"I didn't think I was ready," Killings said.
So he spent last year basically being a college student, but the financial aid package Hampton offered for his sophomore year was considerably lower than it had been the previous year. Hampton doesn't guarantee housing after freshman year, and Killings didn't get it as a sophomore, which left him needing to get an apartment on top of everything else.
He decided to come home.
"UMass has a better sports management program, so I thought it was a good fit for me," Killings said. "When I thought about it, I was like, if I'm going to be here... I started to work hard in the summer to try to walk on with the team, and it worked out pretty well."
Killings' connection to the UMass basketball program runs deep. His father, Sam Killings, works in the university's accounting department and has been a Minutemen fan for a long time.
When Dwayne was 8, he was a ball boy for then-head coach John Calipari's first team.
"I just remember being the ball boy and getting autographs from Will Herndon and stuff," Killings remembered. "Now I'm one of those guys. It's a good feeling."
"We used to tell him back then, 'Maybe someday we'll be sitting in the stands, and you'll be playing out there,'" Sam Killings said, chuckling at the memory.
As he grew older, Dwayne Killings attended the UMass summer basketball camp, and when he got to high school, he even worked at the summer camp. During the off-season of his junior and senior years in high school, he and teammate Bayete Gordon would often come to campus and take part in pickup games with the UMass players.
Killings with the Hurricanes of Amherst RHS.
Minutemen coach Bruiser Flint said that he gets about 30 to 40 players who participate in walk-on tryouts every year. Becoming part of a Division I program and traveling around the country lures them, but the time commitment often scares them off after a couple days of workouts.
"I always tell guys that are serious about walking on, they have to come in September, get up in the mornings and do all the runs and stuff like that," Flint said. "We've had a couple kids who are pretty good players, but because the time demands are so much, they couldn't make it."
Killings hung in and made the team, but because he transferred from another school, even though he didn't play there, UMass wasn't sure if he'd be eligible right away or if he'd have to sit out a year and consequently didn't put him on the original traveling squad.
Because he hadn't competed for the Pirates, he got clearance from the NCAA to play this year, and when fellow walk-on Dale Menendez decided to transfer, Killings took his spot on the traveling roster.
While walk-ons don't play that much even in practice, Flint said he was impressed with Killings' practice readiness.
"A couple times when we've thrown him in in practice, you can tell he's been paying attention because he knows what to do and what positions to be in," Flint said.
For Sam Killings, seeing his son on the UMass roster after over 20 years of fandom has been exciting.
"It's been a big thrill for me seeing him in the uniform," Sam Killings said.
There are times Sam can now see the players he once watched from afar across his dining room table, as his son has brought his new teammates home for dinner on a couple of occasions.
"It was fun," Sam Killings said. "We all really enjoyed it. The first time, my wife (Thelma) cooked a lot, and when the players were done we looked around and thought, 'Where's our dinner?' Those players can really eat. Now she makes enough to feed an army."
Dwayne said his teammates appreciated the gesture.
"When practices first started I brought guys home all the time since I'm so close and they can't get a home-cooked meal," Killings said. "My mom and dad love the guys. The first time I did it, the guys sent my mom thank you cards, so I think they appreciate it. I'll do whatever, because after last year I know what it's like to be away from home."
Back at home, however, he's enjoying his return to basketball.
"Doing this, I've had some experiences and met some people that will probably help me down the road," Killings said. "I love every minute of it. I love practice and just being out with the guys.
"The biggest thing is just to push guys. I try to watch practice and pick up on what they tell other people, so when I get into practice I won't make mistakes and hold everybody back," he continued. "If I push myself to get better, it'll just make everybody else better and help them get ready for the games. That's pretty much my job - that and keeping them in it during the games by cheering."
It may not look like fun, but don't tell Killings that.
"I've really enjoyed it so far," he said. "It's been a lot of fun."