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This One’s for the Bench Guys

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For all those guys that don’t get the recognition they deserve.

One time, some winter Tuesday night in 2009, in a town called Denison. A pimple faced, chin-strapped, and banged 18 year old Ryan sat on the bench during a varsity basketball game. Nothing particularly exciting was happening, and for the most part this was a typical game for my high school basketball team. We were getting blown out, and as the clock ticked down in the fourth and we stared at another double digit loss, I knew my time was coming.

I heard the coach called out my name to sub in, I pulled off the warm up, checked in, and at the dead ball strolled on to the floor with the swagger of any other scrub getting the garbage minutes. The hilariousness of what happened next still makes me laugh.

I caught fire for about two minutes. I was untouchable. Eight straight points and a student section chanting at me “J-V. All-Star.” It was beautiful. The buzzer sounded, the crowd was silent, but for that brief moment in time, I was Kobe in the Garden.

One of my favorite sports figures is a writer/podcast host named Mark Titus. Titus played at Ohio State and was a bench guy for his entire career. Such a bench guy in fact he developed the idea of “Club Trillion.” Club Trillion is for guys like me, the “one minute played, followed by zeros in every other box” on the stat sheet.

So with all that in mind, I had a conversation the other day with my dad in which we tried to think of the best “Club Trillion” type guys in Iowa State basketball. Here’s the best three:

#3 — Eric Steyer

A homegrown boy from Ames, Iowa, Steyer boasts a career average of .3pts/.2rbds/.5asts on nineteen minutes played over eleven games. Steyer was a former Ames standout who worked as a manager for the women’s team before finally realizing his ultimate goal of wanting to walk on at Iowa State. Steyer has only ever attempted three in a live game situation but managed to cash in on one of them for a frenzy inducing three pointer. Locals of course will always love Steyer for his story the proximity to home, but also our hearts.

#2 — Stuart Nezlek

One of the key components to being a memorable bench guy is the home town crowd coming up with a chant or cheer to call for your check in for the final minute. Some sort of a poor mans Bat signal almost that the crowd is ready for you to pop off that warm up and hop in there for a full ninety seconds of sweat. For my money, I cant remember anyone getting the Alley going quite like Nezlek. At even the thought of a potential blowout, the section would start with murmurs of “STUUU” eventually cascading and reverbing off the concrete in Hilton like a tsunami along a beach in Thailand. Nezlek spent two seasons in Ames and carried a career average of .7pts/.4rbds/.1asts. What shouldn’t go unnoticed however was his exceptional free throw percent of 1.000%. Meaning if you went with “Hack a Stu” as your way of stopping this last minute All Star, you were bound for a lead extension.

#1 — Georgios Tsalmpouris

Oh what could have been for my beloved Georgios Tsalmpouris. No one was more excited for this Greek Freak than me. A 7’2 foreign project that from all accounts had a soft touch at the rim and could dial in the long ball from range. I’ll be the first to admit that my love for him was mostly because of what I had seen from Kristaps Porzingas and really was committed to this becoming Iowa States version of the fabled “Unicorn.” But alas, my dreams of a 7’2 stretch five would never come to fruition. Watching Georgios run up and down the floor in the midst of a blow out, deer in the headlights look on his face, was for the most part one of the more celebrated parts of seeing him play. But all that aside, him catching the ball and squaring up to potentially fire a deep range two or one from the arc gave the crowd baited breath as if they were seeing Ali put Fraizer onto the floor.

All said and done, I love bench guys. The excitement of an accidental bucket to hit for an over or blow a spread is always exhausting, but thrilling. Only a handful of guys ever get to see a roster spot at that level of competition and let alone even the floor. So, cheers to those we remember for the final minutes of all the big wins. The barely warm warmups, the underused tearaway pants and the multiple Gatorade bottles left unopened. We love you guys.