Karon Waller began his sophomore season riding the bench.
With a pair of freshman guards joining the Binghamton men’s basketball team and redshirt junior guard Rob Mansell returning from a knee injury that cost him all of 2012-13, the 6-foot-4 Waller found himself on the periphery of the rotation. He and head coach Tommy Dempsey had spoken about using 2013-14 as a redshirt season, which would have postponed Waller’s second year of eligibility to 2014-15.
But then Mansell bruised his knee, freshman guard Yosef Yacob strained his groin and senior guard Rayner Moquete broke a finger. Suddenly, a team deep at the guard position needed a fresh body to join the rotation.
Waller discarded the idea of a redshirt, electing to play against Buffalo on Dec. 23.
“I don’t think it was that hard,” Waller said of foregoing the redshirt. “I wanted to play because I knew the team was struggling, and I just thought that I had a chance to be able to help, so it wasn’t too hard of a decision.”
In five games since returning to the hardwood, Waller is averaging eight points and three rebounds. He’s shooting 52 percent from the field, including a 50 percent clip from deep, and has turned the ball over just four times.
“The biggest thing I tried to communicate to him was don’t try to come back and prove too much—just come and find your niche and find your role—and I think he’s embraced that,” Dempsey said. “He’s taking good shots, he’s giving us good solid minutes and he’s taking care of the ball well.”
That Waller has a scorer’s touch—he’s reached double figures three times and led the Bearcats with 13 points in a 71-44 loss at St. Joseph’s on New Year’s Eve—should come as no surprise. As a senior at Collingswood High School (N.J.), Waller averaged 25.8 points per game.
But he arrived at Binghamton with a body that hampered his potential at the Division I level.
“I think his body is better now, and that’s making him a step quicker,” Dempsey said. “He looks a little more comfortable out there now than he did as a freshman.”
And because he has excelled filling Mansell’s role—the redshirt junior will miss the rest of 2013-14—Waller should log substantial minutes for Binghamton in America East play.
“It feels good,” Waller said, “just knowing that the coach believes in me to be able to do something and give me the chance to play.”