Missouri basketball team gives walk-on Rosburg chance to play again

Thursday, October 20, 2011 | 10:17 p.m. CDT; updated 11:33 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 20, 2011

COLUMBIA —  Andy Rosburg is a member of the Missouri men’s basketball team. So far, nobody knows it.

After a Sunday practice, the 6-foot-8 senior engineering major sulks through the Mizzou Market on Hitt Street. He stands in line at Subway wearing sweats with his blond hair jutting out in all directions. In his right hand, he clutches a black water bottle with the words “Mizzou Basketball” etched in gold type on the side.

Rosburgs reunited

COLUMBIA — Andy and Ryan Rosburg have never played one-on-one.

Andy Rosburg, who is four years older than his brother, never thought it would be fair as a kid. He was too big. He was too strong. Ryan Rosburg didn’t stand a chance.

Now, years later, the tables might have turned.

Ryan Rosburg, a senior at Marquette High School, is breaking all the records his brother set four years ago. Standing at 6 feet 10 inches, Ryan Rosburg has surpassed his brother in total points, rebounds and blocked shots. He’s now taller and stronger, too.

Andy Rosburg, who is 6 feet 8 inches isn’t thrilled about the prospect of his brother breaking his records. Still, he’s happy the records are at least staying in the family.

“We went to the same high school, and now he’s breaking all the records that I set in high school," Andy Rosburg said. "A lot of people ask me, ‘How do you feel about that?’ I think if anybody is going to break them, I want it to be my brother because we grew up together, so obviously I love him."

"Some people are like, ‘Oh, man. Your brother is breaking all of your records.’ If somebody is going to do it, it might as well be him,” he said.

Andy Rosburg, who is a walk-on, and Ryan Rosburg, who verbally committed to take a scholarship in 2012, will play together on Missouri’s basketball team next season, provided that Andy Rosburg gets into graduate school and chooses to play another year. It would be the first time the brothers have played together on an organized team.

Senior Andy Rosburg has realistic expectations of how much he can improve as a player. He thinks the possibilities for his brother, on the other hand, are endless.

“Obviously, he has the potential to definitely be better than I am. He’s probably better than I was at that age. I’ll give him that,” Andy Rosburg said. He seems hesitant to concede the point.

“I told him if he decided to come here, and I get into grad school and play an extra year, I would almost be more concentrated and focused on making him a better player than trying to improve my own game," Andy Rosburg said. "I know that he has the potential to really help out the team.”

If they do end up playing together, that long awaited game of one-on-one might finally become a reality. When asked for a prediction, Andy Rosburg was conflicted.

“Man, I don’t know. I’d probably have to take it easy on him and let him score a few just to make him feel good," Andy Rosburg said. "And you know what, with the big brother beating up on the little brother, my parents might give me some flack for that.”

He stops abruptly, shaking his head. His tune changes. His competitive nature kicks in.

“I’d take it to him, sure. I’d try to take it to him, but I don’t know if I could win or not,” Andy Rosburg said, smiling. He remains quiet for a few moments, considering the possibilities.

“It’d be interesting.”

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Nobody recognizes him. Nobody gives him a second look.

Andy Rosburg, who was a standout player at Marquette High School in Chesterfield, chose to attend MU rather than play basketball at a smaller school. Feeling that former Tigers coach Mike Anderson’s style of play didn’t fit his own, Andy Rosburg chose not to try to walk on to the Missouri team. Instead, he joined a fraternity, immersed himself in his studies and played club basketball in his spare time.

In other words, he moved on.

Then, after Anderson left, a new door seemed to open.

Andy Rosburg’s brother, Ryan Rosburg, is a senior at Marquette and a basketball standout. The younger Rosburg, who verbally committed to play at Missouri next fall, made a recruiting visit to meet the Tigers coaching staff in the summer. Andy Rosburg came with just to be supportive. He didn’t expect to receive any interest himself.

“I was tagging along with Ryan, and we spent the day with the coaches. And I don’t think the assistant coaches realized that my brother, who’s 6-9 or 6-10, he has a brother that’s 6-8 himself, and who played a little basketball,” Andy Rosburg said.

The coaching staff was quick to urge Andy Rosburg to try out for the team as a walk-on. Suddenly, a career that was long over, that had disintegrated into a memory, had been given new life.

The walk-on tryouts, which were held Oct. 3, consisted of about 20 players running through drills and scrimmages in an empty Mizzou Arena. With assistant coaches looking on, Andy Rosburg separated himself from the pack with unselfish play. He set screens. He grabbed rebounds. And at times, the guy who had held season tickets the previous three seasons couldn’t help but look up.

“There’s quite a few times that I caught myself looking up in the stands, just thinking, ‘Wow. I can’t imagine if this place was full,’” Andy Rosburg said.

Ernest Nestor, a first-year assistant coach at Missouri, helped run tryouts. After meeting and talking to Andy Rosburg and then watching him compete, Nestor got a strong sense of the senior’s character.

“Whatever he does, he does with a lot of focus and a lot of purpose. That’s easy to pick out,” Nestor said. “They’re personal qualities, and they will carry over in basketball.”

The next day, Nestor and Toby Lane, director of basketball operations, offered Andy Rosburg a walk-on spot on the team.

And just like that, the work began.

Without a summer of conditioning, Andy Rosburg was noticeably behind the team’s other players in terms of fitness and agility. He knew training was going to be difficult. He knew it was going to hurt.

“Those first couple mornings, when I was doing these drills and lifts, and running, I was using muscles I forgot I had and muscles I didn’t think I had. That’s just what’s required to be a Division I athlete,” Andy Rosburg said. “Last week was definitely very rough — very sore, very tired. It’s the earliest I’ve gone to bed all school year.”

It will most likely get harder before it gets easier. Most high school players have difficulty adjusting to the speed of the college game. Andy Rosburg finds himself in an even deeper hole after three years of relative inactivity.

“His issue is where he’s starting, not how far he’ll be able to advance. It’s hard for any kid to make a transition from high school basketball to college basketball,” Nestor said. “These guys work really hard to get ready, and he didn’t do that. He didn’t have the preseason that our guys did.”

Still, though he might not have the conditioning, the recognition or the accolades of some of his teammates, Andy Rosburg is a member of the team. It’s taking a while, though, for him to realize it.

“We had team and individual pictures last week, and I was wearing the uniform, and … I don’t know,” Andy Rosburg said. He paused, speechless. Even weeks later, it hadn’t sunk in. “It was just surreal. I got my name plate on the locker, and I guess I’d say that’s when it all hit me.”

Andy Rosburg isn’t looking for glamour or fame. He isn’t trying to fill a stat sheet or land his face on the cover of a magazine. He just wants to be able to wear the uniform and stand on the court. He wants to be a part of the team.

Nestor said he has an immense appreciation of Andy Rosburg and the contribution a walk-on gives.

“They’re out there because they want to be out there — because they love to be out there. You may say it’s a thankless job, and maybe it is,” Nestor said. “But once we go on the practice court, we only have basketball players and teammates. We don’t have walk-ons and scholarship players.”

Although the amount of playing time he will see this season might be minimal, Andy Rosburg will have a chance to compete for his team — and against his team Friday in the Black and Gold game.

As his first real action approaches, Andy Rosburg is eager to see a game in Mizzou Arena from a different perspective. Instead of looking down at the action, he’ll be a part of it. He’ll have to stop himself from looking up.

“Once Friday gets here, it’s going to be another surreal moment, and …” He laughs quietly, shaking his head. His tone reveals both excitement and concern. “I just hope I don’t embarrass myself out there.”

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