Bulls' Bodway no longer a bit player
In his bio in the USF men's basketball media guide, beneath the heading "three words that describe you," Jake Bodway lists jocular, adroit and trenchant.
Don't bother consulting a dictionary. If they do happen to describe the 20-year-old Minnesota native, it's only by coincidence. The hodgepodge of syllables was chosen at random.
"Me and (fellow walk-on) Justin (David), we just wanted to come up with the most ridiculous words to put on (the bio)," Bodway admitted, "so hopefully it would confuse everybody."
Set aside the irreverence for a moment and try conjuring a few words truly befitting Bodway. Prior to this winter, it might have been a tall endeavor for anyone outside his inner circle. Bodway's public profile was low, his minutes-per-game average lower.
But these days, those who follow the ebb and flow of Bulls hoops might be able to attach a few words to the 6-foot-2 guard: gritty, sturdy, maybe even valuable.
In this season of overwhelming attrition, Bodway has become that significant.
"Actually, I think Jake is a Division I basketball player despite (being) a walk-on," redshirt sophomore Bo Zeigler said.
"He's strong, he's 6-2. He gets in there, he's a hard-nosed player, he can knock down the open shot. But I just think he's gotten better as he's gotten more playing time with his confidence."
When the Bulls' bench became perilously shallow in recent weeks, Bodway's role suddenly evolved from cameo to contributor. His 8.1 minutes per game are nearly quadruple his 2014-15 average (2.1), highlighted by a 26-minute performance in a 92-58 home loss to SMU two weeks ago.
"I just try to go in and make a difference, make an impact," said Bodway, who has totaled 15 points, 17 rebounds and six assists in 21 games. "It's been different because I would used to just play like, two minutes, and now I'm playing more. But it feels good, I like it."
And while the minutes have tapered off significantly in the last three contests (coinciding with the return of PF Chris Perry from a suspension), Coach Orlando Antigua still points to Bodway as an example of what a little pluck and persistence can achieve.
"He's a kid that's benefited from being prepared and being ready," said Antigua, who even briefly put Bodway on scholarship (for the '15 spring semester).
"That's a great teaching tool to our other kids, and kids that are watching. They're saying, 'Look, you just keep working, keep preparing yourself.' When those opportunities present themselves, then you want to be ready to go ahead and step in and make the most of it. And Jake has certainly been a kid that has done that."
After averaging about a dozen points as a senior at Jefferson High in Bloomington, Minn. ("We were hovering around .500," Bodway recalls), Bodway moved to Florida when his dad's job as a construction contractor led the family south.
Initially content to be a USF student, he joined roughly 25 others for a walk-on tryout in the final year of the Stan Heath era.
"I knew I had a chance," said Bodway, whose older sister, Haley, is a 6-foot outside hitter for Western Kentucky's volleyball team. "I knew it was between me and one other guy. ... And over time, they just called me."
Bodway had to sit out his first couple of practices while awaiting formal NCAA clearance. When it came, then-Bulls assistant Steve Roccaforte thrust him into a five-on-five scrimmage. Before Bodway could say surreal, he was running the floor with the likes of Perry, Zeigler, John Egbunu and Corey Allen Jr.
"They just kind of threw me in with the wolves," he said.
The wolves beckoned again this season in American Athletic Conference play, when USF at one point found itself down to six scholarship players. Bodway logged at least five minutes in 11 consecutive conference games. In one five-game stretch, he averaged 16 minutes.
The Bulls won the first two games in that stretch.
"We just try to encourage him, talk to him, let him know, 'Hey, you belong out here,'" Zeigler said. "'You're a Division I basketball player.'"