University of Akron basketball coach Keith Dambrot needed a defender on the court during practice Tuesday morning at Rhodes Arena.
Dambrot looked toward walk-on freshman Darius Hoisten and shouted: “I need you in the game! I need size!”
Hoisten, a 6-foot-5 and 188-pound guard, jumped into the 5-on-5 full-court scrimmage as No. 12 seed UA (26-6) continued preparation for its NCAA Tournament game with No. 5 seed Virginia Commonwealth University (26-8) on Thursday night in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Hoisten, a Garfield High School graduate, competed against freshman Jake Kretzer as freshman Carmelo Betancourt dribbled the ball.
Kretzer and Betancourt are steady contributors during games. Hoisten is not. His biggest contribution is in practice.
“My role is to work hard every day and push guys to get better,” Hoisten said. “I am not content with it, but I have to accept it. This is a learning process. I have to get better and continue to develop my game.”
Hoisten said better shooting and increased confidence and strength have helped him acclimate to college basketball.
“I feel like I have taken another step, but I have to keep going forward,” Hoisten said. “I can’t be stagnant in my game. ... Next year, I want to earn some playing time. I want to get better and stronger. I want to get into the rotation.”
Hoisten, 19, also matched up in practice against juniors Nick Harney and Demetrius Treadwell, freshman Reggie McAdams, seniors Brian Walsh and Chauncey Gilliam and sophomore Deji Ibitayo. Those six players are all regulars during games and on scholarship.
Hoisten and freshman Pat Forsythe pay for their college.
“Darius has gotten a lot better since he has gotten here,” 7-foot senior center Zeke Marshall said. “He works hard to make our team better any way he can. I have seen him get better and better as the year has gone on. When he first got here, I thought: ‘OK, he is a walk-on.’ He couldn’t shoot that well, and he wasn’t very confident. You can see his confidence coming up and he is shooting the ball a lot better. He is driving to the basket. I am actually considering him more of a threat on the red team than any other person. I like that he is getting better at making us better as he gets better.”
UA assistant Rick McFadden called Hoisten last year about being a walk-on after seeing him play.
“I didn’t believe it at first,” Hoisten said. “When coach McFadden called me, I thought it was a trick. I thought it was one of my friends playing a joke on me.”
McFadden and Dambrot saw Hoisten play in AAU games and liked what they saw.
“Ricky saw him play first and said: ‘Hey, he is pretty talented,’ ” said Dambrot, a Firestone High School and UA graduate. “I think he was going to go to Marietta. We said ‘If you come here and take a look at it, the worst-case scenario is you could probably get a scholarship from here to somewhere else.’ Most of the guys that are walk-ons have offers after they are here awhile. He has been great. He has gotten really strong compared to where he was. He always comes to practice hard every day.”
Hoisten started two seasons at Garfield. He averaged 17.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.9 steals per game as a senior, and he was a second-team All-City Series selection. He averaged 8.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.2 steals per game as a junior.
“Marietta wanted him and recruited him hard,” Garfield coach Harold Ickes said. “I don’t think he was content at that level. He wanted to try (Division I).
“Darius is a very good teammate and a very good kid.”
Hoisten has appeared in five games for the Zips and played seven minutes. He has two points (two free throws against John Carroll) and four rebounds.
“Darius is athletic and he is long,” Dambrot said. “I just think he is a late developer.”
Hoisten said he will enjoy this NCAA Tournament run with his hometown college.
“It feels great being an Akron guy on an Akron team that is going to the NCAA Tournament,” Hoisten said. “You know your fans are coming straight from your hometown.”