Hogan’s Journey: Three Years as a Division-I Walk-on

By Beacon Staff

Geoff Hogan arrived at Tulane University in New Orleans two years after Hurricane Katrina. The university was rebuilding, along with the city, and it was a lot to take in for a bright-eyed Montana boy looking for a spot on the baseball team.

Hogan, a 2007 graduate of Flathead High School, was a multi-sport star as a teenager in Kalispell. But the small Western schools that offered him baseball scholarships didn’t interest him, so he looked East. His gaze landed on Tulane, a university looking for ambitious students willing to join the long journey to recovery.

“Tulane was rebuilding and trying to recapture students it had lost,” Hogan’s father, Mark, said. “We thought it might be his best opportunity to play Division I baseball.”

But Hogan’s efforts to walk on to the baseball team didn’t pan out. Rather than get discouraged, he switched gears. Maybe, he figured, the basketball team could use a 6-6 forward with an inside-out game and an uncommon work ethic. Hogan began training vigorously on his own and then showed up for a series of walk-on tryouts. By the time the 2008 season started, he was on the team.

Hogan is now in his third year on the Tulane Green Wave basketball team, still without a scholarship. When the scholarship players stay in New Orleans over the summer to take classes and play together, he returns to the Flathead to work on fire crews and train by himself, or with his friend. He’s an academic senior, but he still has one more year of eligibility left after this season. That’s one more shot at a scholarship.

“Ultimately, I’m trying to work for a scholarship,” Hogan said last week, a day after his Green Wave defeated Alabama State 84-69 to improve to 4-2 on the season. “Right now it’s just about going out there and playing basketball and doing what the team needs me to do. All that other stuff will work itself out.”

Three years of toiling as a walk-on while maintaining a sterling grade-point average requires remarkable self-discipline, a trait that Mark Hogan says his son has always had. Hogan is aiming for a degree in religious studies with minors in classics and Jewish studies. He’s also fulfilling his pre-med requirements in preparation for medical school.

One driving force behind Hogan’s commitment to basketball has been the lure of a scholarship, which appeared to be a reality after last season, based on discussions with the coach. But that coach left and a new one took over this year.

“I almost had to start over from square one and prove myself again,” Hogan said.

But Hogan has proved himself yet again, learning a whole new system and, in fact, establishing a greater role for himself. His minutes are up from 10 per game to 17 this season. Hogan has never been much of a scorer for the Green Wave, but in coach Ed Conroy’s offensive scheme, he’s asked to shoot more.

“It’s constant motion, constant action, players playing off one another,” Hogan said of Conroy’s system. “You read and react and drive and kick out. Last year was more set plays.”

“With that,” he added, “I’ve gotten a lot more freedom, personally.”

To say he has more freedom isn’t to confuse him with Kobe Bryant. Hogan still takes fewer than four shots a game and averages 3.5 points. His minutes, though, are the seventh-most on the team and every coach desires a reliable bench presence. Hogan has also started multiple times in his career.

With their son nearly 3,000 miles away, Hogan’s parents rarely get to attend a game. Luckily, the Hogans have discovered the wonders of www.cbssports.com’s “All Access,” which live streams “three-quarters” of Tulane’s games, Mark Hogan said. The Hogans hook the computer up to a television and watch their son play on the big screen.

“It would probably drive my wife and I crazy if we didn’t have this Internet feed,” Mark said.

The long distance between parents and son, however, isn’t regrettable, because Mark knows it’s simply a side effect of following dreams.

“He’s getting a lot of athletic experiences, as well as life experiences, that he wouldn’t have gotten if he stayed here in Montana or went to a school in Oregon or Washington,” Mark said.

Nor are the long hours of studying, working and training discouraging to Hogan, who understands that walking on to a Division-I basketball program is a rare opportunity. If what’s required of him is fighting fires or running chainsaws all day in Northwest Montana, and then heading to the gym for hours at night, he’s fine with that. And scholarship or not, when coach Conroy calls his name on the bench in the fourth quarter, he’ll be ready.

“In the back of my mind I’ve known that my goal is a scholarship,” Hogan said. “I’ve really found that I have to have a short memory and not worry about that end goal so much. I knew I had a place on the team and my job was to do my best.”

“Sometimes you get frustrated with yourself and how things are going, but you have to stay focused,” he added. “It’s a long journey, it’s a long process and you have to take steps first.”

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