At this time last year, Jason Karys was preoccupied with wiping down the floors of the practice gyms and preparing for the intramural basketball playoffs.
Now, he’s wearing the brown and gold on game days and seeing action against conference opponents in what some might call “meaningless minutes” or put simply, “garbage time.” Nevertheless, the 6-foot-1 senior that still serves as a manager for the Valparaiso men’s basketball team is now a walk-on that has appeared in several games this season.
Growing up, playing college basketball was always the dream for Karys. Despite having a successful high school career at Newton North in Massachusetts, where he served as team captain, Karys received no calls to play college basketball.
“My senior year of high school I was hoping to be noticed by somebody,” Karys said. “But I got no offers, not even Division III. So after my senior year, I kind of gave up on my dream of playing college basketball. It was disappointing at the time but it brought me to Valpo to be a manager, so I guess it was a blessing in disguise.”
Instead of outwardly chasing the dream, Karys picked Valpo, where he was wowed by the coaching staff and its promise to him that he would be able to serve as a team manager. Still, Karys quietly kept the bleak dream alive in the back of his mind.
“(Basketball) was something that I don’t think he was ready to give up,” coach Matt Lottich said. “So really the first day he arrived here, he wanted to be a manager. He wanted to be a part of our team. We always give anyone that wants to make that commitment a chance to try it out.”
Though technically not a player, Karys took his opportunity as a manager seriously and over time, cemented himself as a valuable member of the team.
“Managers are available on a volunteer basis,” Lottich said. “But they’re here a lot. I mean they’re at every practice. They’ll assist in breaking down film, they’ll assist in practice; they’ll assist in helping our guys get better.”
Over the next three years, Karys went above and beyond serving his team and even got some opportunities to display his athletic ability.
“If there was a drill they were working on offense and they needed to simulate some sort of dummy defense, I always tried to step up as much as I could and show them that I could move a little bit,” Karys said.
One month after Lottich was promoted to head coach last spring, Karys earned a promotion of his own.
“(Coach Lottich) didn’t want to lose me as a manager,” Karys said. “But (he told me) that I would have a jersey and that I would be a walk-on. That was just validation for all the hard work I had done and just a realization of a dream come true, that I could play college basketball. So that was one of the best days of my life.”
For Lottich, it wasn’t a difficult decision.
“With Jason, all the guys liked him, he put in a lot of work and he was a heck of an intramural player,” Lottich said. “He can shoot, and I knew that he always wanted to walk-on and so for me, the decision was pretty easy.”
Five months later, Karys checked in for the final minute of an exhibition against Hillsdale and buried the first shot of his collegiate career.
“I was just joking with the guys on the bench right before I got in there like, ‘hey man, it’s a blowout. As soon as I catch it I’m shooting a three,’” Karys said. “I don’t know if I’ll make it, but as soon as I catch it I’m putting it up. And then I got in and got the pass, and didn’t even think because I knew I was going to put it up and it was a great moment for me.”
Since then, Karys has logged minutes in six regular season games, scoring in two of them, serving as part-time player and full-time inspiration.
“Because our guys like him so much, they’re so excited and happy for him,” Lottich said. “And when he does get in the game and can hit a shot and do some things, there’s a lot of joy that comes about from our team. In that respect, it is inspiring.”