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A Division One basketball team had so many injuries, it had to hold open tryouts

DON GONYEA, HOST:

Texas Christian University's women's basketball team was so good early this season, it cracked the top 25 in the AP's national rankings. But after multiple players were sidelined due to injury, the team had to forfeit two games and the Division I Big 12 squad started a losing streak. So as Bill Zeeble with member station KERA in Dallas reports, the team held rare walk-on tryouts mid-season to refill the roster and try to restore the team's winning ways.

BILL ZEEBLE, BYLINE: Pregame excitement reverberates through TCU's Schollmaier Arena, where the once-winning Horned Frogs host the seventh-ranked Texas Longhorns. The Frogs' record-setting 14 straight opening wins ended with the New Year after serious injuries took out four top players. Two of those losses were forfeits because the team had only six players and couldn't field a team. A desperate TCU immediately held walk-on tryouts, a first for this school. Pre-med sophomore Mekhayia Moore, who's 20, is one of the four who made the Division I team.

MEKHAYIA MOORE: I was like, this is probably never going to happen again. I can at least - the least I can do is get, like, a little taste of college basketball and especially at the D1 level, which has been really amazing so far.

ZEEBLE: Amazing because Moore played ball all through high school, but thought she'd left team play behind. She hadn't practiced in more than a year. She and the other walk-ons know their skills aren't equal to their teammates. Their passion, though, is. Just ask 20-year-old Madison Conner, one of TCU's stars who got injured.

MADISON CONNER: These girls have been great. They come in here every day and work. I mean, they just helped me with the workout. So these girls didn't have the opportunity that most of us had to come and be on a scholarship at a Big 12 school, so just seeing how much they love the game and genuinely just want to be a part of a team.

ZEEBLE: TCU coach Mark Campbell wasn't sure what he'd see at the tryouts. After all, school was well underway, class schedules were set and any hopefuls were out of practice, if not out of shape. But he says 40 to 50 young women tried out.

MARK CAMPBELL: Every one of them that showed up to try to make the team, they sold out. They were diving on the floor. They were just beet red. They were competing. It was really refreshing to see the joy and passion for the opportunity they were trying to earn. It was like "American Idol."

ZEEBLE: At least the Division I college basketball version. In the very first game with walk-ons, TCU actually won, but they haven't since. The role of the walk-on, says Coach Campbell, is to spell the regulars during games and keep them sharp in practice.

CAMPBELL: Practice is how you prepare for your opponent. Practice is how you compete and get ready. You can't look at it as are they in the game, playing a huge role in helping us win? No. Are they in practice, flat-out competing and giving us everything they got to prepare us for the game? Yes.

ZEEBLE: In that recent match against the Texas Longhorns, it was a 3-point game at the half. Horned Frog fans were hopeful, but in the end, Texas wore down and blew out TCU by more than 20 points. Here's Coach Campbell after the loss.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAMPBELL: The last two games we've struggled to hit shots, but that's the hand we're dealt. We got to make threes in order to stay in these ballgames. Right now, there is no other option.

ZEEBLE: Eighteen-year-old freshman Piper Davis is just happy to be along for the ride. She's another walk-on who thought her basketball days ended after she left high school in Boise, Idaho, for college in Fort Worth, Texas.

PIPER DAVIS: Coach Campbell said, make the most of it 'cause this never happens. And so I just decided I'm going to play my best and go out there and have fun doing something that I thought was over and see where it goes.

ZEEBLE: For Davis and the rest of the Horned Frogs, they're still finding out where it goes.

For NPR News, I'm Bill Zeeble in Fort Worth.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT'S "SIRIUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues. Heâââ