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The 1: Passion propels walk-on Eddie Days

Andy Gottesman / Multimedia editor

Eddie Days doesn’t look much like a basketball player. Generously listed at 6 feet, and weighing 180 pounds, the stocky Days looks more like he should be playing running back for Jim Tressel than guard for Thad Matta.

But Eddie is more passionate about basketball than most people are about anything. He simply loves the game.

At Richmond Heights High School near Cleveland, Eddie was a star. As a senior in 2006, he averaged 22 points, six rebounds and five assists per game, and was named first-team All-Ohio. But despite all of his success, he still didn’t have any Division I scholarship offers.

Eddie had opportunities to play for Division II or Division III schools, but that wasn’t what he had in mind.

Even when Eddie was young, he said his dream was to play basketball for the Buckeyes.

“I always wanted to come (to Ohio State). My dad came here. All my family lives here in Columbus,” Eddie said. “I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.”

Unbeknownst to Matta and his staff, Eddie decided to pay his way and try to walk on the basketball team at OSU. He loved the game too much to stay away.

“Even before tryouts my freshman year, I would play ball at the RPAC probably five hours a day,” Eddie said. “Not even just to stay in shape or just because I knew I was trying out, but just because I loved playing.”

After those daily, five-hour sessions, he’d hit the weights.

“If I didn’t play ball,” Eddie said, “I was having a bad day.”

When the day of the tryouts came, Eddie walked up to the Schottenstein Center and, along with 11 other guys, ran a few drills and scrimmaged for about a half-hour. The whole process lasted about 45 minutes. That was it. Everything Days worked for came down to that moment.

“Right after tryouts were over, Jamar Butler, Daequan Cook and David (Lighty) were in there watching tryouts,” Eddie said. “Jamar came up to me afterwards and said: ‘The coaches like you. They think you’re probably going to be the one.'”

Eddie made the squad.

“He was just so, so excited,” said Judie Days, Eddie’s mother. “I can’t explain how excited he was.”

Eddie planned to take the bus straight back to his residence hall, but that didn’t exactly happen.

“I ended up just sitting on the bus for like an hour, just riding and kind of reflecting on how I played that day,” Eddie said. “I’d probably have to say that would be my favorite memory.”

But his happiness was short-lived.

During his junior year of high school, Eddie passed out during a morning basketball practice.

After running a battery of tests, the doctors at the Cleveland Clinic discovered he had a rare heart condition. Days was put on medication and had no problems following the fainting incident, but OSU doctors didn’t want to take any chances. They wanted to take a closer look at the problem.

By the time the doctors were satisfied and cleared Eddie to play, the roster was full. Eddie was denied his chance to be a part of the team.

“That was really devastating,” Judie said. “That was really hard for him and (his family).”

After being let down, Eddie wouldn’t let up. He kept up with his daily marathon gym sessions, and even started helping the women’s basketball team practice to get more gym time.

Though Eddie wasn’t able to play for the men’s team, the way he played during tryouts earned their respect.

Former Buckeye guard Jon Diebler has known Eddie since 2007, and said the team thought highly of him.

“Eddie’s a guy who has always been around the program, and whenever we would have open gyms Eddie was welcome to come and play,” Diebler said. “Even when he wasn’t on the team, he would still come and play because we knew the type of player he was.”

When Eddie came back in 2007, the roster was full and the team didn’t hold tryouts.

The following year there was a tryout, but the team ultimately decided not to take anyone.

Three years had passed, and Eddie still wasn’t where he wanted to be. Some thought it was time for him to try something else, but he refused to give up.

“I even asked him at one point. I said, ‘Well, would you maybe want to think about going into coaching?’ But he said, ‘No, I want to play,'” Judie said. “He was adamant.”

So for a fourth consecutive year, Eddie attended tryouts.

This time, he made it.

“It finally worked out,” Eddie said. “I think they just wanted somebody who would play hard and understand that if they make the team, they may not play a lot, but they still have to bring it every day in practice. And I understood that.”

Eddie was a practice player, and said he loved it.

“My role was to bring it every day in practice. Especially this year, with five or six freshmen, just to kind of be a leader and show them how things are done and lead by example,” Eddie said. “I think it helps when you play hard on scout teams and the practice team against the starters. It really helps them out.”

Eddie was routinely matched up with some of the best players in college basketball. His first year, he was in charge of checking Evan Turner in practice. This year, he guarded William

Buford, Diebler and Lighty.

“Eddie’s a guy who’s really strong, so he would be really physical with us and he did a great job of guarding us,” Diebler said. “He would challenge a lot of our shots, and I know by him guarding, you know, myself, Dave and Will, it made us better.”

Eddie said he loved the opportunity.

“I loved playing and practicing against NBA-caliber players every day,” he said. “The things I’ve learned from these coaches and the times we had together, you know, with my teammates and everything, we really became like a family. Especially this year.”

Eddie didn’t get a chance to play in many games, but on March 20, with about three minutes left in the Buckeyes’ pummeling of George Mason in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, the OSU faithful at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland started a chant. It was quiet at first, but continued to gain volume.

“Ehh-dee, Ehh-dee, Ehh-dee,” the crowd chanted.

Shortly thereafter, Matta relented to the crowd’s request, and Eddie entered the biggest tournament in college basketball.

“The Eddie chant,” Judie said. “I just could not believe it.”

Eddie was fouled at the end of the game, and was sent to the foul line where, in front of his hometown and many members of his family, he hit one of two free-throw attempts for the first and only point in his collegiate career.

“For me, (the free throw) felt like 20 points,” Judie said.

Eddie wasn’t as excited as his mom, but still enjoyed the moment.

“I had a lot of friends and family there,” he said. “It was definitely a good night.”

Eddie said he’s definitely going to miss playing for the Buckeyes, but he’s going to miss the people on the team and the times they had most of all.

“We were really like brothers,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing; it was always a good time, a lot of laughs.”

Diebler remembers Eddie being a fierce pingpong competitor, sometimes showing up 90 minutes before practice just to play a few games and be with the guys. Although Diebler claims to be the pingpong king, Eddie could hold his own.

“He was definitely top-five,” Diebler said.

Though the experience ended abruptly, and ultimately short of the team’s lofty goals, Eddie said he doesn’t regret a second of it.

“I’m really going to miss the program,” he said. “It hasn’t really hit me yet that it’s over.”

Now, Eddie will focus on finishing his last quarter at OSU, from which he plans to graduate in June with a degree in consumer sciences and a minor in business.

But don’t be surprised if you see him tearing up the RPAC sometime soon, you know, for old times’ sake.

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