At UCLA, even the walk-ons have great basketball bloodlines
Their success is all relative.
Collectively, Tyler Trapani, Jack Haley and Alex Schrempf have played eight minutes this season for UCLA, scoring one basket, and some might say even that was heaven-sent.
Stockpiling points was no trouble for their famous kin.
John Wooden was an All-American guard at Purdue long before becoming UCLA’s revered coach. The elder Jack Haley had a 10-year professional career after a memorable rise to prominence with the Bruins. Detlef Schrempf was a three-time NBA All-Star, a league leader in three-point shooting and gravity-defying hair.
“He was way up there,” Alex Schrempf said of his father, “and I’m just a regular guy playing.”
On the rare occasions he gets the chance, that is.
Schrempf, Haley and Trapani were among the nonscholarship walk-ons who lucked into a minute of playing time during UCLA’s 71-49 victory over Arizona on Saturday. Haley made like North Carolina State’s Dereck Whittenburg to Trapani’s Lorenzo Charles, hoisting an airball that Trapani corralled for a spine-tingling basket in the final seconds.
The put-back served not only as the last basket in “old” Pauley Pavilion, it prompted typically stone-faced UCLA Coach Ben Howland to openly weep in the locker room.
“It was so fitting to have Tyler Trapani, John Wooden’s great-grandson, make the last shot in the history of this building,” Howland said after the tears had dried.
Having the famous sons in Westwood is a win-win proposition for everyone involved. The walk-ons get to wear four of the most storied letters in college sports across their chest and the Bruins get to mingle with a trio of basketball blue bloods.
“I’m a part of arguably the most prestigious basketball program in the country,” Schrempf said. “I think that in itself is worth a lot more than I sacrifice every day to be part of it.”
That’s not to say the walk-ons offer nothing more than a name. Schrempf helped prepare the Bruins for Oregon State last month by simulating the top of the Beavers’ 1-3-1 zone press in practice. UCLA went on to pull out an eight-point victory, completing a season sweep.
No one is going to confuse the trio for their relatives on the court. Schrempf lacks his father’s shot (and famously spiked hair), Haley lacks his father’s height and Trapani lacks his great-grandfather’s sinewy physique. But the players do possess something invaluable in their DNA: determination.
“When Coach has them come play defense in practice,” freshman center Anthony Stover said, “they bring intensity.”
Schrempf’s resolve sprouted from a postseason banquet he attended as a boy in the mid-1990s, when his father played for Seattle. SuperSonics coach George Karl told the gathering that Detlef Schrempf was the hardest-working player he had ever coached, the sharpshooter having twice been selected the NBA’s sixth man of the year.
Those words stuck with the younger Schrempf.
“By the time I graduated high school,” said Schrempf, a 6-foot-5 freshman forward from Seattle who turned down a scholarship offer from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to join the Bruins, “I was known for my work ethic, which was what I was pretty proud of. I think that’s the one thing I can relate to as far as basketball goes with my dad.”
Haley is actually ahead of where his father was at the same point in their careers. The elder Haley, a surfer from Seal Beach who did not play high school basketball, began his career at Golden West College before being discovered by UCLA coaches in a summer league.
His son, a freshman guard who is five inches shorter than his 6-10 father, was a four-year letterman who averaged 14.2 points his senior season at Los Alamitos High. The elder Haley said he’s holding out hope that his son can crack UCLA’s rotation by his junior year.
“He’s not like his dad,” the elder Haley said. “I just learned basketball and played with a lot of heart and energy and intensity. He is a talented player who can shoot the lights out of the ball. He’s a far better basketball player than I was at that age.”
As hard as it is for him to accept today, there was a time when Trapani didn’t want any encouragement from Wooden. The coach who guided UCLA to a record 10 national titles tried to offer his great-grandson a few pointers on rebounding and shooting free throws in the backyard when he was 8.
Trapani brushed him off, not wanting to hear it.
“I liked to be independent when I was younger,” Trapani said.
They never talked basketball again.
But the boy soaked up Wooden’s messages of discipline and cooperation, and though Wooden died in June at 99, his great-grandson still turns to the man he called “Poppa.” Often before games or tests, Trapani will linger outside the glass-enclosed replica of Wooden’s den inside the J.D. Morgan Center on campus.
“I’ll sit on the floor and imagine I’m sitting on his couch,” the junior guard said. “I’ll say, ‘I hope I do well and try and do what you wanted me to do.’”
Having their offspring succeed in basketball was never a priority for the famous relatives. Trapani said Wooden talked only about doing well in school, not on the court. Trapani has not disappointed with a 3.2 grade-point average and plans to go into teaching and coaching like his great-grandfather.
Haley wants to become an astronaut, and Schrempf, a global studies major, is still mulling his options. Whatever career he picks, his father plans to back him 100%.
“We stressed from early on,” Detlef Schrempf said, “that we wanted our kids to grow up and find something to do that they can be successful in.”
Haley may never play for the Lakers or dunk on a player the caliber of Patrick Ewing as his father did, but that’s fine as long as he doesn’t concede those possibilities.
“That’s his message every day to me, just work your hardest and be the best person you can be whether it’s the classroom or on the court,” Haley said of his father. “If I give it at the best at the end of the day, at least I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I went for it.”
Sometimes, as Trapani showed against Arizona, their effort can translate into something special.
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