For injury-prone Illini, the next man up is the manager
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) The injury situation at Illinois has come to this: Coach John Groce has added team manager Ryan Schmidt to the roster.
After almost four full seasons of working with towels, water bottles and the stools players sit on during timeouts, the 6-foot senior guard will wear No. 14 on Saturday when Illinois travels to Minnesota (12-8, 1-6 Big Ten).
''I never really expected to suit up for the orange and blue,'' said Schmidt, who played high school ball at Bloomington (Ill.) Central Catholic and considers himself a lifelong fan. ''My room's decked out in Illini gear.''
Groce said he added Schmidt to make sure Illinois (13-7, 3-4) had enough players to practice and - just in case - enough players for game day.
''Ryan's a great kid and has been here the entire time I've been here,'' the third-year coach said. ''Obviously played in high school, and was a really good high school player.''
Schmidt said some Division II and III schools showed interest in him but he chose Illinois for academic reasons. He is an accounting major.
Illinois lost starting point guard Tracy Abrams for the season when he tore an anterior cruciate ligament before the season started. Leading scorer and rebounder Rayvonte Rice broke a hand this month and is out until next month. And this week, guard Aaron Cosby had surgery for a torn retina, an injury that Groce said Friday is improving but won't let him back on the court right away.
In Wednesday's win over Purdue, Illinois essentially used seven players.
Enter Schmidt, whose first call with the good news was to his parents.
''Neither of them believed me,'' he said. ''It took a little bit of explaining.''
Schmidt changed his Twitter profile Friday to read ''Former basketball manager & current walk-on.''
A check of the online team roster showed an update, too. There was Schmidt's name tucked in among players who see the floor every game, complete with a one-line bio: ''Four-year team manager added to the roster as a walk-on on Jan 23, 2015.''
Schmidt said he will take a crash course in Illinois' playbook, but said some things will not change. He still expects to carry the stools out onto the court during timeouts, he said.
''That's my specialty,'' Schmidt said.