Ryan Schmidt was a varsity letterwinner at Bloomington Central Catholic High School but until the last few days the University of Illinois senior assumed his basketball playing days were behind him.
As a fourth-year student manager for the Illini basketball team, it was Schmidt who was handing out towels behind the team bench during Wednesday night’s victory over Purdue.
That’s one of his two jobs: Accounting major and student manager for the Illini basketball team.
But all that changes Saturday when Schmidt suits up as a member of the Illini team. He becomes an emergency reinforcement, a 6-foot guard who will wear uniform No. 14 today when the Illini invade the old barn they call Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus.
Talk about living out your dream.
The truth is, there are only two circumstances in which Schmidt gets into today’s game.
One is if Illinois is cruising along with a 20-point lead and two minutes to go.
The other is if fouls or more injuries put the Illini in an unforeseen roster bind. Illinois will once again be without injured guards Tracy Abrams, Rayvonte Rice and Aaron Cosby.
Coach John Groce said he didn’t want to get caught short-handed.
“We’re just not very deep right now,” Groce said Friday before boarding a flight to Minnesota. “I just thought it was wise moving forward that we have enough bodies for practice and that’s what went into it.”
Groce would have had Schmidt in uniform against Purdue. But he first needed approval from the NCAA Clearinghouse and that didn’t arrive until Thursday.
“Ryan is a great kid. He’s been with us the entire time I’ve been here,” Groce said. “He understands what we’re about and he was a really good high school player. It’s more depth for practice and depth on our bench for games.”