By Scott Eddy, Director of Athletics Communications
Note: This story originally ran in the game program for the Feb. 7 game.
But when the Bonnies' star players bring the Reilly Center crowd to life with a big play, there's a good chance that the team's walk-ons played a part in the success.
Though Galatio and Lee have played just 14 minutes combined this season, the duo is at every practice, grinding with the rest of their teammates, doing all the types of things that don't garner headlines but are vital to the success of a good team.
Decorated high school players in their years before coming to St. Bonaventure, Galatio and Lee took different routes to their roles as walk-ons.
Galatio is in his second year with the program after a standout career as a four-year varsity player at Hornell High School. A Livingston County All-Star as an off-ball guard at Hornell, Galatio helped his team to a pair of Section V finals playing for a squad that included current Alfred guard Sam Dagon. Interested in St. Bonaventure's sports studies program, Galatio also wanted to continue playing basketball.
"I wanted to give it a shot and I figured the worst they could say was no," he said.
So Galatio, now a 6-foot, 175-pound sophomore, contacted Bonnies director of basketball operations Matt Pappano the summer before his freshman year about trying out. Pappano encouraged him to come to a 5-on-5 tryout.
"It was one of the most nervous days of my life," Galatio remembers. "I felt good about it. Matt said they would get back to me, and it was a week before I heard anything. Finally they told me to come to practice and to be ready at 6 a.m. I think that was the first test to see if I would be committed enough to be there that early."
Finally, after watching a couple of practices, Galatio was invited to take the court.
"The first couple practices were different experiences. I've played with and against some pretty good players, a couple of guys that have gone D-I; but those teams had one of those players. I'd never played in a situation where everyone is that big and athletic," he said. "I just thought, they're letting me practice so it must be that I belong here."
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Lee was extremely familiar with what a Division I player looked like after growing up watching his brother, Dwayne, star at Saint Joseph's and then professionally overseas. Like his brother, Jason played his high school ball at St. Anthony's High (N.J.) under legendary Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley as a point guard. After having other plans to play college ball at a lower level entering his freshman year this past summer, he decided to take his brother's advice to walk-on at Bonaventure after Dwayne joined the Bonnies coaching staff in May.
"At first I told him I wasn't going to play, but then I decided I wanted to be around the team," Lee says.
Though the playing time in games might be sparse for walk-on athletes, the season statistics don't tell the whole story when it comes to their importance to the team. It's often Galatio and Lee who are running the scout team in practices to help their teammates get ready for games.
"What I do best is defense," Lee said. "Guys are always joking around that I'm getting into passing lanes and getting deflections in practice. That's how I try to get them ready for defenses, by denying them and getting after the ball."
Galatio added, "I just try to work as hard as I can to make up for the difference of athletic ability and size. Whenever we run through drills and we're on the scout team, Jason and I are just trying to work because we're trying to simulate someone who is 6-3 and 6-4 and quicker than us. We're trying to make up for that with our hard work."
Though the perks of being a Division I basketball player might be obvious, the grind of the season is very real.
Both players, like their full scholarship teammates, are undergoing the physical toll of a season full of long practices while missing classes due to travel and games. The lack of playing time and attention from media and fans can make their jobs a thankless one at times.
"Where I come from, you learn early to push the ego aside," Lee said. "Coach Hurley taught us life lessons like how to carry yourself and taught us about character. He taught us that you get out what you put in and that you can't cheat the process. You just always have to work and be ready; you never know when your time will come."
"There are times you can't wait for practice to be over. It might not seem like it is rewarding, but when you get to the games and you see the guys making the right reads, getting steals," Galatio said, "it feels like I helped them do that because I helped simulate the defense in practice. You know you won't be getting all the accolades, but you have to find your motivation in other places."
And each has had their moment in the spotlight. After not getting into a game last season, Galatio has played in four games this year and has become a fan favorite for his fellow students.
"I don't want people to think Jason and I can't play. We're still good players," he said. "When I get the chance I don't want to mess up, I want to give people something to cheer for."
Lee has also gotten into four games, including his first collegiate points – a 3-pointer vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore.
"When it left my hand, I felt like it was going to be short. When it went in, I heard the crowd go crazy and I just got chills," he remembers with a grin.
The experiences of travel with a Division I squad also have fulfilled some lifelong dreams for the pair.
"I grew up a huge Syracuse fan and being able to play in the Carrier Dome was one of the best experiences," Galatio said. "When we were on the bus on the way to the game, I couldn't believe it was real. Those are the things that make it all worth it."
Both players have big aspirations for post-college as well. Lee, a marketing major, has plans of getting into real estate and owning rental properties, while Galatio has hopes to one day get into coaching.
And while their work doesn't always pay off in playing time, there's no question that they're part of the team.
"I wasn't sure how the team would bring me in," Galatio said. "From the first day, they brought me in right away and made me one of the guys. We're all equals and that's been great from the beginning."