Austin-East's Brandon Lopez and Fulton's Galen Campbell each had ample options as high school seniors. Division II schools offered slots on their basketball rosters. Junior colleges dangled scholarship offers.
Then there was Tennessee. New coach Cuonzo Martin needed walk-ons for his 2011-12 roster. He targeted Lopez and Campbell.
As lifelong friends, the two Knoxville natives encountered a dilemma.
To play or not to play? To suit up for the hometown Vols or to find a new home?
A judgement call was made. Campbell and Lopez choose to take the plunge into walk-on waters together. They added up the positives and Martin's invitation won. The hometown boys went to the hometown school.
"We've been playing together since we were 6 or 7 years old," Lopez said Wednesday. "It was a great opportunity."
This spring, though, Campbell and Lopez learned a miscalculation was made.
They assumed their walk-on slots on Martin's roster would always be available. That changed in late April following Campbell and Lopez's first season.
Amid budgetary cuts in the streamlining of Tennessee athletics, the department announced it will operate with fewer student personnel, including basketball walk-ons. Just like that, Martin's roster was restricted to 15 spots — 13 scholarship players and two walk-ons.
Five members of the 2011-12 Vols were walk-ons. Two remain. Once spliced as a package deal, Campbell and Lopez were untwined.
"We knew that a couple people were going to have to go," Lopez said."Everyone hoped it wasn't them."
Lopez and Rob Murphy were the lucky ones.
Soon after the roster restrictions were announced, Campbell sat inside Martin's office. It was the last conversation either one wanted to have. Remembering back to the meeting, Martin said, "That's not an easy thing to sit down and talk to a kid about."
"I was shocked that there were going to be cuts, but I didn't personally think it was going to be me," Campbell said. "Coach made his decision and I respect him to the fullest. It was business."
The role of a walk-on is unforgiving. All work. No limelight. All pain. No gain. Players who starred in high school are asked to work on the scout team.
At Fulton, Campbell averaged 24 points and 9 rebounds as a senior.
At Tennessee, he impersonated players like Vanderbilt's John Jenkins and Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as the Vols planned for upcoming matchups.
"Guys on the team gave us our respect last year," Campbell said. "We helped them. We went at them."
After announcing the roster cuts, Martin told Campbell to stick around the program in 2012-13 and rejoin as a walk-on the following season. If he chose to leave, though, Martin said he'd understand.
As for Lopez, his elation over snatching a coveted roster spot was quickly muffled.
"It was tough to accept," he said.
"That's like my brother, so he was probably more upset than me, " Campbell added. "I'm not really emotional or anything."
A scholarship to Iowa Western, a strong junior college with a track record for placing players in Division I programs, quickly made its way to Campbell.
In the end, the former walk-on made a walk-on-type decision. He chose the team over himself.
"I really look up to Coach Martin, and then there's the players — those are my brothers — we've bled and sweat together," Campbell said. "There's a bond there. I couldn't leave."
And Martin is looking forward to welcoming him back down the line.
"We'll be happy to have him back in the family full-time," he said.
So you won't see Galen Campbell on the UT bench in 2012-13. He'll be around, helping out where necessary, attending games in street clothes. He might be the first redshirt walk-on in Vols history. He's already eyeing 2013-14.
"Coach and I made an agreement," Campbell said. "I gave him my word, he gave me his word. That's where it is."
Summing up the walk-on journey of he and his friend, Lopez said if you're not selfless, you won't survive.
He concluded that Campbell has proved as much.
"You have to play your role in life," Lopez said, "whatever it is."