In search of depth for a roster thinned by injuries, the Coyote men’s basketball team found a new place to recruit: their own gym.
Caleb Cline, a 6-foot-3-inch guard from LeMars, Iowa, joined the men’s team in January after a two-week stint as a practice player on the USD women’s basketball team.
Head men’s basketball coach Todd Lee said Cline had reached out to the team in hopes of joining, and Lee, coaching a squad low on legs, welcomed the junior as a walk-on.
“We’ve gone through so many injuries, and we needed to add someone to our group. We talked to the women’s team and they said ‘he’s a great young man, works really hard, he really helps our team’,” he said. “The guys knew him, so they feel comfortable with him, which is important.”
Cline started his college basketball career at Northwestern College, an NAIA school in Orange City, Iowa. He transferred to USD his sophomore year and got a call from the coaches last semester.
“They called and asked if I was able to join and I said ‘yeah, let’s do this’,” he said. “I’m excited for the opportunity. I’m thankful for the support I’ve had from my past coaches, my friends and my parents. It’s been quite a bit of a change for me.”
Cline said he came to USD with no intention to play college basketball, but two years later has found a role as a player on a Division-I program.
“I want to be a hard-working guy that shows I want to be here every day. I help out with the young guys too,” he said. “I miss playing and I really haven’t in two years.”
Cline saw his first minutes on the floor during Thursday’s game against Oral Roberts, where he subbed in towards the end of the first half.
“That’s another part of my role; I always have to be ready. I never know when my number’s (going to) get called. The assistant coaches and players have been telling me ‘hey, be ready, you never know’,” Cline said. “Finally my number got called, and I was ready. I came in and played a couple possessions and I did my part.”
Lee said he appreciates Cline’s verbal presence on the court.
“What we like about Caleb is that he’s vocal,” he said. “A lot of walk-ons are quiet, where they just go about their business. If guys aren’t doing something right, he talks to them and communicates with them. He’ll yell at them, which I don’t mind, because he’s yelling the right stuff. He has a good understanding of the game.”
With hopes to one day coach college basketball, Cline initially joined the women’s practice squad to be around the game. He said helping players practice is much different than being the focus of practice.
“It’s a different pace. As a practice player, you just helped along with the drills, but now as a player you have to go through the drills,” he said.
Earlier this month, Lee said this season has been “the toughest year for injuries that I’ve been a part of in my 30 years of coaching basketball.” This, added to senior Jay Harvey’s departure and sophomore Jack Stensgard’s transfer to Wisconsin-River Falls, has forced Lee to do things most college basketball coaches don’t have to worry about.
“This is not normal, and it’s certainly not ideal,” Lee said, in reference to adding players mid-season. “We enjoy having [Cline] on the team. He’s a good representative, he’s a good kid, he’s a good student. The guys know he cares about the team. He’s not out here doing it for any other reason.”