Most student athletes enter their first year of college having spent months getting to know their future teammates and coaches. But for a walk-on athlete like Sam Cooper PZ ’25, the journey to playing basketball began differently.
“I wanted to walk on pretty much regardless of whatever school I got into,” he said.
Student-athletes are typically recruited for college varsity teams while they’re still in high school. Walk-on athletes join the team by proving their athletic capabilities to the coaches.
That’s exactly what Cooper did when he managed to impress Charles Katsiaficas, head coach of the Pomona-Pitzer men’s basketball team. Katsiaficas invited him to scrimmage with the current players in the first few weeks — shortly after, he began playing in live preseason games.
Cooper has always been passionate about the sport, having played throughout high school. His curiosity, dedication and love for the game come from his family, many of whom also played collegiate basketball.
“[Basketball has] always really helped me with school just like being active,” he said. “It’s just something that really relieves a lot of stress, and I really have a lot of fun doing it.”
Although he came into practices with the intention of working hard and making the most of his opportunities, Cooper had a few hurdles to get over first.
“At first, it was a little bit challenging because I was concerned whether or not I would be able to play at the level of competition with the players because they’re all very talented,” he said. “I think as the open runs went on, it got a little bit easier.”
One of his initial challenges as a walk-on was acclimating to the higher level of competition presented by the team.
“I think definitely the level of competition was difficult for me. [Coming] from New Mexico, it wasn’t necessarily the most competitive area, so it was challenging to adjust [to California’s higher standards],” he said. “Another thing was just [perfecting] the smaller things: like dodging screens, cutting, the basics of the game.”
For Cooper, walking on to the basketball team has been an incredibly rewarding experience, one that has given him the opportunity to make memorable experiences with great teammates.
“At first, it was difficult because I didn’t really know any of the players beforehand,” he said. “But they were also very inclusive and very welcoming; the captains often planned team dinners and we even went to a [Los Angeles] Clippers game once.”
Cooper is grateful for his coaches for giving him this opportunity and being so supportive.
“If you’re interested in playing a sport, you should 100% consider walking onto a team,” he said. “It’s definitely a very great experience being able to connect with a team and being able to learn through everybody who is very skilled.”