It wasn’t so much being placed on scholarship for his final semester that meant so much to Georgia Tech walk-on forward Rand Rowland. It was the reaction that teammates and coaches had for him when coach Josh Pastner made the announcement prior to the Yellow Jackets’ game Saturday against No. 9 Louisville.
Rowland has loved serving mostly as a practice player for the Jackets since arriving from White County High in northeast Georgia in 2013. It is ideal grounding for him to pursue his ambition of becoming a college coach. Plus, there’s free gear and a seat on the sideline for every game. Beyond what he was getting out of the deal, though, Rowland just wanted to know that he was adding value to the team.
“So for coach (Pastner) to put me on scholarship and then have other coaches and teammates congratulate me and say, ‘You’ve earned it,’ I think that was probably the biggest thing that stuck out to me,” Rowland said. “Because that kind of confirmed or even validates, like, O.K., maybe in the time here I have done something to help this team, that maybe I do really have potential to coach and help guys get better.”
With 12 players on scholarship going into the season, Pastner was holding back the 13th scholarship for a possible mid-year transfer. When none materialized, he was happy to give it to Rowland two days before the winter semester began. In December, Pastner called him a “phenomenal, phenomenal young man” and credited him for helping him learn the roster after his hire last April.
“I’m just really happy for him,” said assistant coach Eric Reveno, who works with the 6-foot-6 Rowland as part of the post players group. “What we do as basketball coaches isn’t always fair. The right guys don’t get rewarded all the time. It’s life. So it’s nice when the right things do happen.”
Rowland earned his business degree in December. With his final semester, he is now beginning a second degree in the school of history and sociology.
His hope is to land a graduate assistant position somewhere and begin his climb up the mountain. He has a supporter in Pastner, who two decades ago launched his own career from a spot at the end of the Arizona bench.
“I know it’s really difficult, but I can’t imagine a better job anywhere,” Rowland said.
He’s a long way from the start of his time at Tech. As a high school senior, he contacted the Tech coaching staff after he was accepted, going so far as to attend a couple games with his father Parker at McCamish Pavilion and waiting outside the interview room to introduce himself to then-coach Brian Gregory.
After enrolling in the summer, figuring he needed to be ready for a tryout, he was at the school’s Campus Recreation Center one day shooting. Who happened to be there but Gregory, who was there working his camp.
“He comes over to me and he says, ‘We have workouts in 15 minutes over at the gym. You’d better beat me over there,’” Rowland said.
Rowland hopped on the campus trolley to get over to the Zelnak Basketball Center, where he sat and watched the workout. (He needed medical clearance before he could participate in a practice or workout.) He kept coming back, as told.
“And then one day, I walk in and one of the (graduate assistants) says, ‘Look, you can’t keep being here in just a t-shirt and stuff. There’s some gear back there on your chair. You need to go change, get out here,’” Rowland said.
On the first day he was cleared to work out with the team, he recalled, he took part in a ballhandling drill. Rowland played center in high school, and thus dribbling was not his strong suit.
“So I was trying to keep up with the other guys and actually fell on my face right in front of BG,” Rowland said. “He’s like, Come on, get up, keep going. At that point, I thought I was done. That’s the end of the experiment.”
Rowland kept showing up, though, never clear on if he was just an extra body for the summer, if he would be required to try out in the fall or something else. (Walk-ons are at the bottom of the food chain and typically do as little as possible to draw attention to themselves. Asking if they’ve made the team also runs the risk of getting an unwanted answer.)
“And then picture day, they just gave me a jersey with my name on it for the picture,” Rowland said. “There was never really, like, Congratulations, you’re part of the team, or, We’re sorry, you didn’t make it. They just kept telling me to show up and giving me stuff, so eventually, I was like, O.K., I guess I’m on the team.”
His main role has been in practice, working on the scout team and giving players like center Ben Lammers someone to drill against. Rowland has played in just nine games in his career, playing a total of 19 minutes. He has taken two shots (both misses) and is still hoping for his first career points as a Jacket. He said he was nervous and rushed the two shots he’s been given in his career, one in the NIT win last season over South Carolina, the other against Alcorn State earlier this season. Should he get another chance, he may have to go to his jump hook, which Reveno said has improved.
Rowland’s career may or may not end with him getting into the scoring column. It would seem his time has been worthwhile either way.