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Sept. 9, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

With the biggest roster Georgia Tech basketball has seen in a while, head coach Brian Gregory has enough players to do things differently, but the “Iron Five,” is not new.

If you follow Gregory on Twitter (@GTBrianGregory), you saw last week that he posted a photo of the five walk-ons his his squad, and it turns out they’re more than that.

Junior Aaron Peek, sophomores Brooks Doyle, Ron Wamer, Colin Gurry and freshman Rand Rowland, will be the Yellow Jackets’ scout team, a key part of an 18-man roster.

Peek appeared in nine games over the last two seasons and Doyle was in seven last season, but they needed help running the scout team. Wamer and Gurry were practice players who did not dress. Depending upon their academic schedules and availability, the scout team sometimes had scholarship players on it. It may this season, too.

But also this season, there will be five walk-ons with names on jerseys (although that is not a guarantee they’ll dress for games), and Robert Sampson is redshirting. Trae Golden awaits word from the NCAA on his eligibility, and if that doesn’t go his way, the Jackets will have seven candidates for the scout team as opposed to two full-timers in 2012-13.

“We emulate the other team,” said Doyle, a former Marist School standout whom Gregory spotted while recruiting current Tech freshman Quinton Stephens when he was a high school sophomore.

“[If Tech was getting ready to play N.C. State], I would emulate Scott Wood, Pierre [Jordan] was Lorenzo Brown, Aaron was C.J. Leslie. Last year’s Iron Five was me, Aaron, Ronnie, Colin sometimes and Pierre and usually Julian Royal

Strength and conditioning coach Mike Bewley had a hand in the nickname. The walk-ons often pump iron before games, and Doyle said, “that’s where Bewley kind of came up with it.”

Don’t be surprised by the size of Tech’s roster. Gregory, who is entering his third season as the Jackets’ head coach, has had something like this in mind.

“You try to mirror what quality programs have, and they have quality walk-ons who are important to the development of the team,” he said. “They have everybody’s respect, they have study halls, they’re held to the same standards. Our guys see them as if they were recruited for three years to come to Georgia Tech.

“It’s taken three years to kind of build, and I think we have our best group of walk-ons. They’re going to take an even more prominent role in help us prepare by running the other team’s offense and defense.”

Rowland, a 6-foot-6 forward from White County High in Cleveland, Ga., is the only complete newcomer. He had opportunities to play college ball at lower levels, but opted to come to Tech – conditionally.

He wanted to be sure that he would at least be allowed to try out to be a walk-on. His father contacted Tech assistant Josh Postorino last spring to inquire about that possibility.

“Then we were able to come down here a meet with Coach Postorino and see the gym and everything,” Rand said of the process that led to his decision. “It was in-state, which helped with tuition, but it’s also one of the top academic institutions in the world.

“Being that my career is not going to be in basketball, but in teaching or business, there’s no better place to go than here.”

Doyle, a 6-4 guard, and Peek, a 6-4 forward, from Mays High, were invited by the Tech staff to be walk-ons.

Wamer and Gurry, guards from Dacula and Canton, Conn., respectively, went through a process similar to Rowland. All three of them said they were nervous about contacting Gregory, but wouldn’t have felt good about themselves if they didn’t try.

Gurry made the ACC Academic Honor Roll last spring.

Wamer wants to be a pilot. He had a chance to go to the United States Military Academy after playing basketball and baseball at Mill Creek High in Gwinnett County, but opted to stay close to home and participate in Tech’s ROTC program.

“Those guys have really improved as players,” Gregory said. “Our job is to help them improve, and in a lot of cases some of those guys down the line will earn playing time. [Gary] Foreman started out as a walk-on and started a few games our first year. Those guys take great pride. It’s just another way to build competitiveness in practice.”

Rowland seems to be fitting right in.

“We pretty much do the same work as the guys on scholarship. Not always at the same time of day, but the same workouts. It’s always hard, but it’s rewarding,” he said. “I heard that coach Gregory was going to get rid of the garbage and just get high-character players. These guys aren’t just good basketball players but good guys, too.”

As Doyle said, “We’re treated the same way. Players treat us the same. We don’t stand out or stick out. We’re part of the team, and everybody knows that.”

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