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The Life of a Walk-On
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 01/18/2013
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Jan. 18, 2013

by Adam Gonzales

Max Wiepking has seen it all. The senior has been through the infamous Sweet Sixteen game against Duke, the triple overtime game in the Bay Area at California, the block by former Wildcat great Derrick Williams at McKale’s first White Out and this year, the miraculous comebacks against Florida and Colorado.

“Beating Duke was one of the best moments of my life,” Wiepking said. “The way some of the games have ended this year have been unbelievable as well. There are so many different amazing moments that have happened.”

When Wiepking first found out that he was going to be a part of the Arizona men’s basketball team, he was in shock.

“When I first found out, I didn’t believe it,” Wiepking said. “I knew that it was such a good opportunity for me and I was nervous because I didn’t want to disappoint anybody, I just wanted to do the best I could when I got here.”

Being part of a collegiate basketball team has its perks, especially programs like the University of Arizona with the history that the program boasts. It is called “A Players Program” for a reason. If you attend a basketball game and you watch the pregame video, you will hear former players like Damon Stoudamire, Steve Kerr and Andre Iguodala say, “63 NBA draft picks,” or “25 All-Americans,” and that is because the program has always been about the players,

“The best part is being able to walk around and be a part of your own fraternity,” Wiepking said. “Everyone has each others backs.”

There are not many people in this world that can say that have put on an official Arizona basketball jersey but Wiepking can.

“The jersey is pretty incredible,” Wiepking said. “I was looking at it during a road trip and was thinking how crazy it is that I have my own jersey with my last name on it. It’s still pretty hard to believe that I have that.”

Typically, the main job for walk-ons is to help prepare the first-team players as much as they can for upcoming games. Wiepking has a bit of a different role. Yes, he still does work on the scout team with the other walk-ons but he also has has emerged as a leader.

“We have scouting segments, and that is where I do most of my work,” Wiepking said. ”This year I have taken on a little more of a leadership role since I’m a senior. I’ve been through everything and I can tell the guys what to expect, and since I have played in this system all four years of my career, I feel like I have a good grasp on what Coach (Sean) Miller wants us to do.”

Coach Sean Miller has high praise for the walk-on.

“Max has all the qualities you want in a player in his role,” Miller said. “He’s popular among his teammates and is extremely unselfish. He knows everything we do as a program inside and out. He’s going to leave this year with his degree, and he is someone that we are going to miss.”

When Wiepking finds himself on the court, he does not disappoint when he takes his shots. For his career, the senior has made four of his six three-point attempts. So when he puts it up, the shot is more than likely going in, which will lead to the eruption of the McKale Center crowd as they normally do for walk-ons.

Even since the days of players like David Bagga and Josh Pastner, every time Wiepking or any other walk-on touches the ball, the crowd without fail yells for him to shoot the ball.

“You can feel the excitement from the fans when we get into the game,” Wiepking said. “I was nervous the first couple times I got on the court in my career.”

He still remembers the first three-pointer he hit. It was on November 11, 2010 in McKale Center against Idaho State where Wiepking would hit the shot that he will remember for the rest of his life.

“Coming into college, I just wanted to score one time,” Wiepking said. “It felt like I got the monkey off my back and everyone was so excited for me.”

Everyone remembers the Elite Eight run the Wildcats had back in the 2010-11 season, and Wiepking got a front row seat for all of that.

“I’d have to say my favorite moment so far was my whole sophomore year,” Wiepking said. “I lived in a house with Derrick (Williams), Solomon (Hill), and Kyryl (Natyazhko), and we had a lot of fun, especially with the way the year went. That whole year was so much fun, it would be hard to beat that.”

This being Wiepking’s last year, he is going to have to do something other than play on the basketball team next year but he has a plan.

“First off I need to get my classes done so I can graduate,” Wiepking said. “Then hopefully I can work for an NBA team in the front office. At some point, I want to work my way up to becoming a general manager.”

Being a native of Englewood, Colo., which is about 20 minutes south of Denver, becoming the general manager of the Denver Nuggets is Wiepking’s dream job, but if any sort of opportunity like that comes up for, Wiepking will take it. 

Being a part of the Arizona men’s basketball team has been the opportunity of a lifetime for the senior. Even though he doesn’t get as much playing time as his teammates, he plays an invaluable role. Wiepking has taken full advantage of something most people in this world don’t get to experience, and he is having the time of his life.

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