Kalamazoo Gazette Article

Graham Couch / Kalamazoo Gazette

Article from mlive.com .....

WMU walk-on Alex Wolf plays final home game Wednesday, nearing end of unexpected career
by Graham Couch / Kalamazoo Gazette
March 1, 2011

KALAMAZOO — After five years of becoming anything but the prototypical local walk-on, there is irony in what is considered Alex Wolf’s greatest value this season to Western Michigan University’s men’s basketball team.


Isn’t that rich — a burly, sub-6-foot non-scholarship guard from Parchment making a difference in practice. But on a team without another senior or a natural vocal leader, there’s no way around the likelihood that Wolf’s presence around the team, beyond games, is what will be missed more than his 3-point shot or his always-in-the-right-place defense. Wolf’s senior class load as an engineering major has forced him to miss a bevy of practices this season. Days minus Wolf, Broncos coach Steve Hawkins said, are quiet days.

Erik Holladay / Special to the Kalamazoo GazetteMost folks didn't think Alex Wolf could survive among the trees in Division I basketball, like this trio of Ohio University players earlier this month. But Wolf, once a star at Parchment in the KVA, has become a vital piece of the WMU men's basketball team.

“I have real concerns, very sincere concerns about how we’re going to replace Al next year,” Hawkins said. “I know how different practice looks, feels and sounds when he’s not here. And it’s not in a good way. He is the volume of practice. He’s the voice of practice. “The voice that’s out there, it’s really loud and clear. I don’t know who that voice is going to be next year. You can replace some basketball parts, but in terms of IQ, the system, really understanding what I want, how we do things, locker room voice, leadership ... there are so many intangibles that go into everything we do and Al does all of them.” Wolf will take his curtain call Wednesday night when Ball State visits University Arena for his senior night. Both teams are tied atop the Mid-American Conference’s West Division at 9-5 with two games left. Fellow walk-on Ed Thomas, who’s a senior in school but not eligibility-wise, will be honored as well, since he’s decided not to return next season. “(Thomas) actually gave me a call (Monday) morning,” Wolf said Monday afternoon. “He said, ‘I’m not going to be coming back next year. Do you mind? It doesn’t bother you that I’m going to do my senior night Wednesday night, too?’ ‘No, no, not at all. You can come out there with me. I won’t be as embarrassed by myself.’

Erik Holladay / Special to the GazetteWMU's Demetrius Ward, left, Mikey Douglas, center and Alex Wolf celebrate a final defensive stop in a win over Illinois State on Feb. 19. Wolf has become a leader on a team full of more heralded players from different backgrounds, including his roommate Ward.

"It’s been a fun ride. It’s hard to believe it’s been five years. It seems like just yesterday I was a freshman and didn’t even know if I was going to play basketball. Now I’m going out for senior night.” Wolf’s knack for improving practices aside, it’s his surprising contributions on game days over the last two seasons that give him credibility beyond his pedigree as a stud half-a-decade ago in the Kalamazoo Valley Association. Wolf, voted a captain by his teammates, is averaging 4.9 points per game and hitting 45 percent of his 3-point attempts (31 of 69) in 17.4 minutes per game during his senior season. As a junior, he averaged 3.5 points and hit 50 percent of his 3s (20 of 40) in 11 minutes an outing. This, after playing a total of 27 minutes during his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons.

Erik Holladay / Special to the Kalamazoo GazetteWMU senior Alex Wolf drives past Ohio's Ricardo Johnson earlier this month. Wolf is averaging about 5 points per game in roughly 17 minutes.

“Senior days are always emotional, but I’ve got a real soft spot for Al,” Hawkins said. “I’ve got a real soft spot for anybody that sticks with the game even though they may not be getting a lot of playing time. They’re just truly here for the love of the game and to be around it. “Then, to have him experience some success. And then for him not to just be successful but become a key part of this team, it’s a Western Michigan success story. “He embodies everything we try to be. We try to be the team that plays the hardest. We try to be the team that has the most heart. We try to be the team that has the best GPA. We try to be the team that represents the program, the university and the community well. And Al does all those things. He embodies all of that.” For Wolf, what matters now is trying to do what none of the more heralded classes he’s seen check out have been able to — lead a group to an overall conference title and a run in Cleveland. “In the beginning of the year, we had a real hard summer, we were fighting with each other, had a lot of hard heads, a lot of minds come together,” Wolf said of a team that’s now 17-11. “We didn’t really know what we were going to do. I know expectations weren’t too high in the beginning of the year, but we always just believed that we had a good team, we had a lot of talent. ... I think we knew we could win, as long as we kind of just got focused and matured as a team. And I’m proud with what we’ve done so far and hopefully we keep on playing at this level that we’re playing at right now.”

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