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Olympia forward Luke Litwiller (24) grabs a rebound against Tri-Valley in a State Farm Holiday Classic small school boys division game last December at Shirk Center. Litwiller has officially been added to the Illinois State roster as a walk-on.

DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH

A stellar senior season was winding down last winter and Luke Litwiller thought the clock was running out on his basketball career. Some Division III colleges had shown interest, but "that wasn't intriguing to me," Litwiller said.

The 6-foot-5 Olympia High School forward had decided to attend Illinois State and major in agricultural business.

Then came a suggestion.

An Olympia assistant coach "put it in my head that maybe I could potentially walk-on there," Litwiller said. "I just sort of kept that thought in my head all summer and I worked pretty hard for it."

Faster than you can say, "Really?", Litwiller was a regular at the Hopedale Wellness Center.

"My local gym," he called it.

He will tell you it's a nice gym with not a lot of members. It offered Litwiller the means and the solitude to focus on his game, which had produced averages of 15 points and 7.5 rebounds on Olympia's regional championship team.

By August, it was healthier than ever. And Litwiller was in the best shape he'd ever been.

Wellness indeed.

Tuesday, Illinois State coach Dan Muller made official news that had leaked out last week ... Litwiller has been added to the ISU roster as a walk-on.

He had approached Muller during an orientation event on the ISU Quad in the first week of school about a desire to try out.

"He came up and I thought, 'OK, this guy has a little size to him. Hopefully he's decent,' " Muller said.

Litwiller followed up and attended ISU's annual walk-on tryout recently. It went well, though he said, "I was hesitant to get any impression off of it. I didn't want to get my hopes up too high or down too low."

Still, the 200-pound Litwiller walked away believing he had shown Muller and his staff "what I could do."

Soon he was a Redbird, though Muller waited a few days to make it official. The ISU coach wanted Litwiller to go through some practices to see if it was going to work ... standard procedure for Muller in regard to walk-ons.

It's working.

Part of it is that even with Litwiller the Redbirds have only nine healthy players. A rash of injuries has left ISU shorthanded.

Yet, Litwiller's presence is not merely a product of good timing.

"Even if we had more guys, I would have kept him," Muller said.

Litwiller will suit up Sunday when the Redbirds face Lewis in a 2 p.m. exhibition game at Redbird Arena. 

There is a good chance he will play.

"I'm definitely a much bigger part of the team right now than I thought I would be right off the bat," Litwiller said. "It's not for good reasons. Obviously I wish we had our guys. But they've thrown me into the thick of things and that's probably good for me."

A big challenge presently is learning the offense. There are other things to learn as well ... not ideal with the season fast approaching.

It's OK.

Litwiller has found the Redbird players and coaching staff to be "very friendly and very inviting." Team leaders Phil Fayne and Keyshawn Evans have "stepped up and made me feel like part of the team," Litwiller said.

"The transition has not had as many bumps as I thought it would," he added.

It won't all be smooth. Life as a walk-on can be challenging.

Most walk-ons don't see the floor unless a game is well out of hand, and sometimes not even then.

Just know that Litwiller is off to a good start.

"He's only been with us three practices, but so far I like him," Muller said. "It can be a thankless job, but I've never met a walk-on who stuck with it who wasn't successful in life, I will tell you that.

"It's because of all the qualities that you develop being part of a team and also being part of a team when you're not on scholarship and other guys are. It shows resolve, toughness, commitment. Hopefully Luke is one of those guys."

Litwiller reports the Olympia community has been "pretty amazing" in its reaction to his news, adding, "They always back up their alumni."

This alum is rooting for him.

Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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Sports Editor

Sports Editor for The Pantagraph.

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