Yuminami continuing tradition of electric walk-on performances

“A walk-on’s role is to help my teammate get better and prepare for the next game,” the poised freshman said. “It’s not my team. I’m not trying to prove to them that I’m better than them or anything.”

McClain Baxley

On way to an Islands of the Bahamas Showcase title, the Georgia Southern men’s basketball team had a run-in with one of the greatest players to ever play the game. Hall of Famer Michael Jordan was staying in the same hotel as the Eagles in Nassau during the tournament.

Freshman walk-on Eito Yuminami shook the legend’s hand.

{{tncms-inline account=”Eito Yuminami 弓波英人” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="ja" dir="ltr">マイケルジョーダンが同じホテルにいました‼️ ちなみに握手してもらってる奴は僕です笑 トーナメントバハマでよかった…笑Michael Jordan is staying at same hotel!!!!! That’s me shaking his hand👀 Bahama is crazy lol <a href="https://t.co/dmP14lCij5">pic.twitter.com/dmP14lCij5</a></p>— Eito Yuminami 弓波英人 (@eyuminami) <a href="https://twitter.com/eyuminami/status/1063643676952403969?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 17, 2018</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/eyuminami/status/1063643676952403969″ type=”twitter”}}

Both Jordan and Yuminami played high school ball in North Carolina, but unlike Jordan, Yuminami was not a highly-touted high school recruit.

Listed as a two-star point guard at Pine Lake Preparatory in Mooresville, Yuminami first considered GS after his high school coach introduced him to one of GS’ assistant coaches, Andrew Wilson.

“I committed in March, but because I didn’t sign anything I was always nervous, even when I came here,” Yuminami said. “There were always walk-on tryouts so I wasn’t really sure I made the team.”

Yuminami officially got the news after the Eagles departure from the Sun Belt tournament.

“I was in Spanish class my high school senior year and [Coach Byington] called me,” Yuminami said. “I told my teacher that I had gotten a call from my college coach, so I got excused to go outside. He goes, ‘you made the team as a walk-on’.”

Expected jubilation and emotion filled the 18-year old as he had the opportunity to wear the blue and the white.

“Even though I’m a walk-on, being a D1 student athlete is just—I don’t have any words for it,” Yuminami said. “I almost cried. I went to my parents to tell them I made the team, of course they were happy for me.”

Yuminami knew what he was getting into when he took the position of being a walk-on. He was joining a senior-heavy team that had high aspirations of competing for a Sun Belt championship.

But he was ready for anything Byington and the team asked of him.

“A walk-on’s role is to help my teammate get better and prepare for the next game,” the poised freshman said. “It’s not my team. I’m not trying to prove to them that I’m better than them or anything.”

Having walk-ons is nothing new for the Eagles, with vocal bench leader Tione Jones being one of the more prominent in recent years.

Like the rest of his teammates, Yuminami travels to road games and practices every practice. Each practice, Yuminami swears he gets better by being around All-Sun Belt players like seniors Tookie Brown and Ike Smith.

“They’re legit Division 1 athletes, so it’s way different than my high school team,” Yuminani said. “My high school team was really small so I can go against anyone and beat them. Here, I’m like the worst player and it’s just a cool experience. I get to play with them everyday and get better and better.”

Though he may see himself as the worst on the team, he cued one of the loudest roars of the season in the waning minutes of an offensive blitzkrieg against Carver College.

“I tried to prove to everyone that even though I’m a walk-on I can still play,” Yuminami said. “At the same time that second layup, I didn’t know I could do that until I did it.”

Both shots were met with stadium-filled applause. The same applause that shook the rafters in Hanner when Quan Jackson hit a walk-off three against Louisiana-Monroe was now cheering on the walk-on.

The first points for Yuminami came by way of a simple layup, but it was enough to keep the fans on their feet.

It was the second shot however that had the Hanner faithful tweeting Sportscenter Top 10.

{{tncms-inline account=”Pine Lake Basketball” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="und" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/eyuminami?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@eyuminami</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/GeorgiaStateMBB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@GeorgiaStateMBB</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/tommy_ussports?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@tommy_ussports</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/TimHoffmanPhD?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TimHoffmanPhD</a> 💪😤 <a href="https://t.co/ficXAXeoCJ">pic.twitter.com/ficXAXeoCJ</a></p>— Pine Lake Basketball (@PineLakeBball) <a href="https://twitter.com/PineLakeBball/status/1060354374239768581?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 8, 2018</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/PineLakeBball/status/1060354374239768581″ type=”twitter”}}

Yuminami took the pass after Tyshaun Crawford came down with rebound and proceeded to sprint all the way down the court. Up by 87, the sense of urgency was low, but the freshman still gave it all he had.

“To be honest, I don’t remember that moment because it was just so cool,” Yuminami said. “I don’t even remember scoring those four points. After the game, I got so many texts and videos of that layup, the second layup.”

Yuminami’s efforts against Carver did not go unnoticed as it was like an initiation into the men’s basketball fraternity.

“It was cool, because Eito is one of the hardest workers on the team so it was neat to see that,” junior guard David-Lee Jones Jr. said.

 

The mutual respect between Yuminami and coach Byington also grew with Yuminami’s showcase against Carver.

“For [the walk-ons], they practice so hard and to get some experience in games and get a good feeling, I love it,” Byington said. “It’s what college basketball is all about.”

While the chance to put up points in a Division 1 game had an impact on him, Yuminami’s favorite moment from his time with the Eagles came off the court.

In November, GS traveled to Arizona for a game with the Wildcats. The Eagles got off the plane to go to practice.

“Everyone is just exhausted, everyone looked tired, I was tired,” Yuminami said. “Tookie looked really tired. I go over and ask ‘Tookie, you tired?’ His face was showing it and he just goes ‘no.’ That just showed me that we had a chance to beat them. Even though we lost to them, I knew we had a chance because our captain had that kind of confidence and mindset.”

From then on the season has had its ups and downs, Yuminami has only played in two more games, but the mindset for the freshman hasn’t changed.

McClain Baxley, The George-Anne Daily Managing Editor,  [email protected]