Brandon Lopez, Galen Campbell playing their roles in life with, without Vols

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."

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Comments » 25

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Thanks to all our wal-ons. Thank you for your service to UT sports.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

errr walK-ons thanks

ORboy writes:

Props to both of these young men. True Vols For Life. And a loud round of BOOs for whoever made the decision to restrict walk-ons.

budd#207344 writes:

Hart claims he is for the student-athlete. A commitment was made to these guys. The UTAD does not need to cut people like this. This is poor budgeting. If you needed to reduce the walk-ons do so after these guys leave. Not cutting folks who have given their hard work and their GPA to Vol BB. Bad decision

Ironcity writes:

Not sure how an additional walk on cost the team any significant money. We give ex coaches millions of dollars not to coach and we concern our selves over a couple of grand for travel expenses. Whats wrong with this picture?

MothershipChip writes:

Props to Galen for being a true VOL!

FWBVol writes:

I really don't see how cutting two or three walkons from the programs saves any money at all other than a couple of pairs of shoes and some workout gear and a couple of home game jerseys and all of those things are paid for by adidas as part of UT's contract with them.

The walkon (or his family) pays their own way. As a rule walkons only dress for home games so there is no travel expenses involved. The only thing the cutting of walkon accomplishes is it makes the program look cheap.

Bigger_Al writes:

Good points above on questioning the savings involved. Jujuan Smith and Skyler McBee come to mind as walk-ons that earned scholarships and eventually starting positions.

clvolfan writes:

You want to know what your AD is doing with his time? This week in JCPress,Kenny Kerr General Manager of the Virginian golf course,in Bristol,got a hole in one.Witnessing the shot was UTAD Dave Hart.Guess he was on a recruiting trip.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to FWBVol:

I really don't see how cutting two or three walkons from the programs saves any money at all other than a couple of pairs of shoes and some workout gear and a couple of home game jerseys and all of those things are paid for by adidas as part of UT's contract with them.

The walkon (or his family) pays their own way. As a rule walkons only dress for home games so there is no travel expenses involved. The only thing the cutting of walkon accomplishes is it makes the program look cheap.

I agree with you and others that it is hard to see how the athletic department saves much money with these moves. I agree completely with your last sentence. The expression "penny-wise and pound-foolish" comes to mind. I also join those who praise Lopez and Campbell for their loyalty and perseverance under difficult circumstances they didn't create.

SevenT writes:

This is what UT does to their "players" lie to them, chew them up and spit them out. Martin lied to these guys and then told them to not let the door hit them on the way out.

Not Cool to do that to people.

1vavolfan writes:

Looks like the Athletic Department is being ran like the board of a corporation. Never mind that UT promised these kids 4 years, they might save a couple of thousand dollars so cut them out. Campbell's loyalty is to be commended, too bad the University can't be near as loyal.

Chris4Vols22 writes:

in response to SevenT:

This is what UT does to their "players" lie to them, chew them up and spit them out. Martin lied to these guys and then told them to not let the door hit them on the way out.

Not Cool to do that to people.

How in the world did you come to that conclusion?

The comments on this website are absolutely asinine 98% of the time.

VolFanInTheBoro (Inactive) writes:

in response to SevenT:

This is what UT does to their "players" lie to them, chew them up and spit them out. Martin lied to these guys and then told them to not let the door hit them on the way out.

Not Cool to do that to people.

You mean like the 7 players scholarships that Calamari revoked when he became the Kentucky coach. You're right Not Cool

underthehill writes:

in response to FWBVol:

I really don't see how cutting two or three walkons from the programs saves any money at all other than a couple of pairs of shoes and some workout gear and a couple of home game jerseys and all of those things are paid for by adidas as part of UT's contract with them.

The walkon (or his family) pays their own way. As a rule walkons only dress for home games so there is no travel expenses involved. The only thing the cutting of walkon accomplishes is it makes the program look cheap.

What some say is reducing costs is something I fail to see..Hart is paid far more than Hammy..and the cronies Hart is bringing in are not on the payroll for any savings I see..the image of the UT Athletic Dept is changing and I don't see it as an improvement..but it ain't costing me nothing..

underthehill writes:

in response to SevenT:

This is what UT does to their "players" lie to them, chew them up and spit them out. Martin lied to these guys and then told them to not let the door hit them on the way out.

Not Cool to do that to people.

A rather rash statement to make when the players involved seem to know it was not Martin's doing..Martin has been nothing but a class act since coming to UT and it sounds to me like you are the one making a false statement by saying Martin told them anything other than what is presented by the news.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I guess I agree with most the comments on here about these walk-on cuts. Why? I don't know the whole story I suppose. I can't judge Hart based on this because I really don't know any details. On the surface it looks bad though.

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

What's wrong with someone playing golf on his free time? How does that relate to anything in the AD? Some people just want to vent about anything I guess.

voloffaith writes:

in response to SevenT:

This is what UT does to their "players" lie to them, chew them up and spit them out. Martin lied to these guys and then told them to not let the door hit them on the way out.

Not Cool to do that to people.

Honey did you hear that kat noise againg by the trash cans? Ya know that weird sound then kats fighting....I wonder if kats lose one or more of their supposed nine lives for spinning/slandering? T7 you can do all your bad posting all the way from here to KATmandu til you put a lie/untruth in it...players understood that coach is for them that is why he said no to Iowa Western to stick around and come back 2012-2013. Read the article next time b4 ewe get kitty litter on your nose....

volsmith writes:

"Amid budgetary cuts in the streamlining of Tennessee athletics". In other words, we aren't going to be very good in any sports for a while.

lastlap writes:

SevenT. Hooked on Phonics worked for me. Do'h!

vollaw writes:

in response to FWBVol:

I really don't see how cutting two or three walkons from the programs saves any money at all other than a couple of pairs of shoes and some workout gear and a couple of home game jerseys and all of those things are paid for by adidas as part of UT's contract with them.

The walkon (or his family) pays their own way. As a rule walkons only dress for home games so there is no travel expenses involved. The only thing the cutting of walkon accomplishes is it makes the program look cheap.

+1. I agree wholeheartedly. When this was first announced I did not understand it. I had hoped someone in the athletic department would eventually explain how it made sense financially and why it was done. Nothing as of yet. I still don't get it. I worked in college athletics for several years as a coach and administrator and I still don't understand why this decision was made. It hurts the team for a cost-savings of peanuts in UT's athletic budget.

carbonzip writes:

Campbell is quick, has good hands, and goood shot selection. Let him play even if he doesn't travel to away games. What a stupid decision.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to VolFanInTheBoro:

You mean like the 7 players scholarships that Calamari revoked when he became the Kentucky coach. You're right Not Cool

Funny how sketchy Cat fans' memories can be when they think they see a chance to slam the Vols. Maybe somebody will explain to the DA the difference between revoking scholarships and telling a walk-on that he can't be with the team this year. I'm pretty sure Martin didn't think all this up by himself, so the idea that he "lied" to the guys is just another tiresome jab by SevenIQ.

I still think it was sheer miserliness on Hart's part to cut walk-ons for the sake of a measly few bucks, though the kids themselves are materially no worse off. As stated, they or their parents pay their way anyway and they have been offered scholarships elsewhere if they want them.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to 1vavolfan:

Looks like the Athletic Department is being ran like the board of a corporation. Never mind that UT promised these kids 4 years, they might save a couple of thousand dollars so cut them out. Campbell's loyalty is to be commended, too bad the University can't be near as loyal.

Though I disagree with this move, you seem to be mistaken about this situation. No one is "promised" four years on a college sports team; all scholarships are awarded on a year-to-year basis and these guys weren't even on scholarship. However, as I said above, I agree with you or anybody else who thinks this is a minor but perhaps indicative case of misplaced priorities on the part of the AD.

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