Feb. 6, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
No matter what you see game-to-game, Julian Royal is taking steps forward. He doesn’t have any choice.
The same goes for fellow freshman Aaron Peek, the Georgia Tech walk-on from the school that sent up Michael Maddox — Mays High.
There comes a time before every game on the road, when the Yellow Jackets go to stretch after their shoot-around, when the Jackets’ two freshmen have to hit the bricks.
Coach Brian Gregory will point to what he deems to be the highest, furthest spot in the arena, and they’re off! Royal and Peek have to run to that faraway place on a there-and-back-again journey.
“Coach said, ‘You know, it’s freshman tradition to run to the top of the stadium steps,’ ” Royal said. “I just kind of stood there; I thought he was joking. He picks out a section — it might be 235 — and you’ve got to go touch the sign.”
Sophomores, juniors and seniors stretch, and cheer in otherwise quiet arenas hours before the games. Sometimes, “They just laugh because they never had to do it,” Royal said.
Sometimes, this doesn’t happen. The Jacket did not have a shoot-around at Fordham, for example, so . . . no steps.
Initially, there was some thought to Peek and Royal competing at this, but they’re settled into a co-pilot and navigator routine. They switch roles from time to time, generally working together.
There has been at least one exception.
When they were at Maryland — a massive arena by college standards — the teammates came to embrace different itineraries.
“You run up the steps and there’s this whole floor that stops you; There’s another floor above you,” Royal said. “We got lost because there’s no immediate stairs there. We ran back and forth and we ended up like in the box seats.”
Eventually, enough was enough. Peek took a detour.
“The student section was pretty deep, and we had to get around suite sections,” he said. “I took a shortcut to the top. There were too many stairs.”
There, in the way, a plexiglass partition of some sort.
“It was there I guess to block people from falling,” Peek recalled. “I hopped over that. Julian didn’t hop it.”
Indeed, Royal had a different idea: “I was like, ‘We can’t do that.’ It takes a while sometimes.”
Walk-on players don’t always travel, and Peek missed road trips at the beginning of the season, but he’s been traveling since that Maryland game. On that day, a freshman manager had to run as well.
“We end up depending on each other,” said Peek, who has one rebound and one three-point shot attempt this season. “It was a little bit of a shock the first time, but I felt like I was more a part of the team, part of a family.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Gregory a rookie as Georgia Tech’s coach? Sure, it’s splitting hairs, but I’m just sayin’ … he’s as new around here as Royal & Peek. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.