Consider that with more than 25,000 undergraduate students at Virginia Tech, only 14 make the men’s Division I basketball team. To make that cut, players have to show skill with a ball, but what they really need is a drive to succeed.
Freshmen Greg Donlon of Midlothian, Va., and a biological science major in the College of Science, makes up for in drive what he feels he lacks in skill.
Donlon is the first to admit he’s not a ‘crazy athletic guy,’ so instead he focuses on the fundamentals and works hard. That’s how he came to be a walk-on member of the Hokies hoops team.
The 6-foot-8-inch forward hasn’t played long competitively. He was cut from the junior varsity his freshman year of high school and was the bench center behind a 7-foot player during his junior year.
“By my senior year I got to start and played pretty much the whole game every game,” Donlon said. “But I wasn’t outstanding. I just like being on the team, it doesn’t matter how much I play.”
To get on the team he practiced. From his junior year of high school he played every day and he played Amateur Athletic Union basketball in the summer. His AAU coach has been a major influence on him to this day.
“My AAU coach trained with me year-round to help give me the best chance to make the team. When it came time to choose a college I was considered by some division II and division III schools, but I didn’t want to go to a small school to play basketball,” Donlon said. “My number one priority is education so I wanted to go to a school that I wanted to go to (for the education). I figured I’d give basketball a shot when I got there.”
Like in high school, Donlon spent the summer playing, training, lifting and preparing himself to be a Hokie. “About a week after I arrived on campus, I emailed the coaches and told them I’d do what it takes,” he said. “They had me out for a couple individual workouts. On the third workout I got to practice with the team and they said they’d get in touch with me. I didn’t know what to think at that point,” he confessed. “But I guess they saw some potential and playing with guys who are better than you, makes you better.”
The coaches asked Donlon to come back out and practice one more time the day before the season officially started. “There was really no ‘you’ve made the team’ moment,” Donlon said. “They just introduced me and told everyone to treat me like a new member of the team.”
Donlon understands his current role on the squad – to learn the next opponent and play as part of the scout team to prepare the starters. “Sometimes we’ll learn a new play the opponent is using about 10 minutes before practice, which is difficult,” he said, “but I can’t think of a better way to learn basketball as a whole.”
Occasionally, Donlon, who wears number 14, will see game time, but it’s been limited so far.
“If we’re up or down big toward the end of a game I might go on,” he said. “I’m no superstar – never have been. That’s not my priority. Having the opportunity to be on the team and practice with some great guys, I couldn’t be happier. Although going in is fun too,” he admitted.
And while basketball is occupying a lot of his time right now, there are still studies to consider. “The university has a study hall we have to attend a minimum number of hours per week as freshmen,” he said. “We have tutors and advisors who keep us on track, and it’s very helpful as we spend between three and five-hours a day between practice and lifting. It makes for a busy schedule.”
Donlon’s real goal as a Hokie, however, lies off the court, he says.
“My goal is to get straight A’s because medical school is really competitive and that’s what I’m shooting for, to become a sports medicine doctor.”
As Donlon has learned throughout his basketball career, hard work pays off and with his drive and determination he’s preparing for success both on the court and in the classroom.