Singleton enjoys exhilarating 4-year ride as walk-on
"We want Todd! We want Todd!"
Those words have been chanted in the waning moments of dozens of games in Cameron Indoor Stadium over the past four years. They are words that senior walk-on Todd Singleton now holds dear.
But that wasn't always the case.
Singleton first took the court for the men's basketball team on Jan. 2, 1995, in a home game versus South Carolina State. Though the Cameron crowd enthusiastically welcomed him that day, the experience left Singleton feeling, well, patronized.
"Lots of people cheered for me when I got in, told me to shoot as soon as I got the ball," Singleton said. "They cheered for me because they thought it was cute that I was in the game. They thought it was neat to see me play. I didn't want to be neat, I wanted to be a basketball player. That made me learn to take myself seriously."
But Singleton has come a long way in his four years as a Blue Devil. Now he knows that the Cameron Crazies are cheering for him to play, not just the novelty of seeing The Walk-on play.
"Now, I really appreciate when the fans cheer for me," Singleton said. "I hear them chant my name, and I know it's genuine, that they want me to get into the game."
Singleton's odyssey as a member of the Duke basketball team began in the fall of his freshman year. He attended an open tryout and earned a spot on the squad over more than 80 other students. The suggestion to tryout came from chance sighting under the most mundane of circumstances.
"I was just sitting on the bus and the girl across the aisle was reading a Chronicle," Singleton said. "I read an ad on the back of the page she was reading that announced open men's basketball team tryouts. My stomach dropped and I didn't eat for a week I was so nervous."
Singleton made the most of his opportunity, doing everything he could to make sure he stood apart. Anyone who attended those tryouts in October of '94 would agree that the general level of basketball being played that night was far from impressive.
Still, Singleton jacked up his socks, hit some smooth jumpers, went hard to rim and stuck around after the tryout to shoot some threes and throw down a few of his best dunks-for anyone, or any coach, who might happen to notice.
Assistant coach Mike Brey did notice Singleton and asked for his phone number. Brey called a week later, saying that the coaches liked what they saw but wouldn't be in need of Singleton's services.
Fortune turned just a couple of days later, however, when several Duke players had to sit out of practice because of injury or illness. Brey called again, this time with an invitation for Singleton to come to practice.
"I had to show up late because I had class," Singleton said. "So I walked in and a manager handed me a jersey. The guys were playing four-on-four at the time because they were short on players. As soon as I put my jersey on, they just threw me in the mix for some five-on-five. I did all right and I bonded with the guys on the team."
Over the first two weeks, Singleton practiced three days a week. After that, the coaches asked him to come to practice every day. Finally, when sophomore Joey Beard transferred to Boston University, he was given a roster spot for the remainder of the season.
Singleton was greeted warmly by seniors Cherokee Parks and Kenny Blakeney and became fast friends with fellow freshman Ricky Price off the court. But he still had many things to prove on the court.
"I got destroyed regularly in practice," Singleton said. "I remember one practice where I was guarding Kenny Blakeney and they gave him the ball like 15 times in a row. I got worked, left out to dry-that really pissed me off. I had to fight for my teammates' respect every day, but I earned it."
Not only did Singleton struggle but the team did as well, turning in its worst performance in years. After enduring a turbulent first year, however, Singleton found himself right in the thick of things as a sophomore.
The Blue Devils were depleted by injuries during the 1995-96 season and were often left struggling to suit up 10 players in practice. There were four walk-ons on that team-Singleton, Jay Heaps, Baker Perry and Jeremy Hall-and Singleton knew that his responsibilities had grown.
"I definitely had a more active role my sophomore year," Singleton said. "Heaps and I both played a lot and, in my mind, I was fighting for playing time."
Singleton's junior year brought with it the two things he had been striving for: wins and comfort on the court. Duke won the ACC regular-season title that year and Singleton finally found the comfort zone on the floor that allowed him to play like a basketball player instead of a walk-on.
This year, the winning ways have continued. Singleton has occasionally found himself on the court despite the fact that this year's Blue Devils are ranked No. 1 in the country and have eight McDonald's All-Americans on their roster. Still, the apex of this season and his career has not been one of those brief stints late in the game. It is the same highlight as every Duke student's: the weekend of the North Carolina home game.
"Last weekend was one of the greatest experiences of my life, mainly because my classmates showed me so much love," Singleton said. "I clapped when I walked out for my senior introduction because I thought of it as a senior game for not just me, but for all those senior students who were at their last game too. Cameron's just been such a special place, I had to applaud that."
On top of all of his basketball experiences, Singleton is also managing to earn a degree in electrical engineering, a field he will continue to study next year in graduate school. He has also taken away something that most of coach Mike Krzyzewski's players leave Duke with: a desire to coach someday.
"Everyone who plays for Coach K would consider coaching at some point in their careers," Singleton said. "I see and learn a lot from where I sit. Coaching a high school team would be a lot of fun and I think it's something I could excel at."
Now, the journey has come full circle and Singleton has a host of memories that most people only dream of. His career stats-34 points in 96 minutes of play to go along with 13 rebounds and four blocked shots-don't begin to tell his story.
Singleton knew even before he made the team that being a member of the men's basketball squad would forever change his Duke experience and his life.
"The night before the tryouts, I was sitting in my room with two of my freshman friends, Matt Banks and Corey Turner, and we talked about how our lives would be completely changed if we made the team," Singleton said. "They were both sure they wanted it but I liked the way my life was going at Duke without basketball. But everything turned out perfect.
"Duke is a great place to be and still would have been without basketball. But I've had a great ride."
It's a ride that many envy, but if you know Todd, you know he's earned every minute of it.