It was two seasons ago that Stephen Vinson had his improbable moment.
A Lawrence High grad and Kansas University men's basketball walk-on, Vinson spent most high-impact games during his freshman year clapping, hooting and hollering and waving a towel from the bench while Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison were leading the Jayhawks to the Final Four.
But in KU's semifinal showdown with Marquette in the 2003 NCAA Tournament, Vinson and fellow practice players Brett Olson and Christian Moody realized a dream.
With the Jayhawks leading by nearly 40 points, coach Roy Williams let the walk-ons play the last two minutes against the Eagles. Vinson, Moody and Olson finished the Marquette massacre, as 60,000 fans at the Louisiana Superdome watched.
It was a moment Vinson never will forget.
"Those are the kind of life experiences that I've gotten to have, and the stories I've been able to tell," said Vinson, now a junior.
"But," he adds, "I'm definitely hoping I have a bigger story to tell this year."
That story, of course, is to be on the Edward Jones Dome court in April, playing out the last few minutes of a Jayhawk rout in the national title game in St. Louis. Time will tell if it's a pipe dream, though preseason pundits project it as a possibility.
Until then, Vinson knows his role. He has been battling a groin injury that kept him out of the Late Night in the Phog scrimmage, but Vinson is being called upon once again to make life hell at practice for the regulars. That's done by playing stifling, sometimes annoying defense, keeping his shot sharp enough to force his defender to play tough and maintaining an intensity that will make every practice a good one as KU shoots for the school's first national title since 1988.
Vinson, though, won't discount the fact he feels he can contribute in game situations, too.
"I hope we can be a very complete team and that I can add to the depth of the team," Vinson said. "If someone gets hurt or goes down, I can step right in and it wouldn't be a burden."
That certainly wouldn't hurt. If the Jayhawks want to make it farther than they've gone in 18 years, everyone from the senior standouts to freshman Matt Kleinmann, who will red-shirt, will have to execute.
Vinson plans to. He's hungry for another dose of Final Four playing time, for both selfish (he'd be playing) and unselfish (KU would be winning) reasons.
Besides, Vinson has vindication in mind, after Marquette guard Dwyane Wade toyed with him in the closing minutes of that 2003 semifinal game. Not that it mattered. KU still won, 94-61.
"That Marquette game was incredible," Vinson said. "Watching how good Dwyane Wade is doing in the NBA, I don't feel as bad about how bad I guarded him."
| Full name: Stephen Brett VinsonClass: juniorHeight: 6-2Weight: 185Hometown: LawrenceHigh school: LawrenceMajor: communicationsBirthdate: September 10, 1983