Walk-on Cinderella story on the Hilltop


Hilltopper Senior Joseph Saldana was spotted during an intramural game and asked to walk on by coach Andre Cook. 

With sweat dripping down his back, he lines the ball up with the basket. He takes a breath before bending his knees, exhaling and sending the ball soaring through the air to swish effortlessly through the net.

Senior Joseph Saldana found a place on the St. Edward’s University NCAA basketball team in a way unlike many of his peers—through an informal game as a member of an intramural basketball team.

“I do not really know how it happened,” Saldana said. “During the school year a couple of players played a game against the coaches, and I did really well. I dropped like 36 points. Later on, I got a random e-mail from Coach Cook that said he was interested in me being a walk-on.”

Saldana’s relationship with the Hilltopper basketball team has some history, but he was not immediately picked up by the team.

“Two years ago Joseph came to me about trying out for the team,” said Andre Cook, head coach of the men’s basketball team. “At that point we did not have any walk-on tryouts, so I told him to keep working on his game and to stay in touch with me.”

Not one to be easily discouraged, Saldana continued to strive to be an excellent basketball player.

“During that year he played intramurals against my former assistant, David Martin, and took his basketball class,” Cook said. “Coach Martin became very familiar with Joseph and his abilities. He also realized the type of person that Joseph is.”

Saldana guaranteed his place on the team not by being particularly tall or shooting three-pointers with his eyes closed, but by being a team player.

“As a player, Joseph is not blessed with height or a ton of basketball talent, but what he does have is a tremendous amount of heart—he plays 100 percent on every play,” Cook said. “I have no qualms with putting Joseph into a game.”

Saldana is also a part of the College Assistant Migrant Program (CAMP).

“I am a part of the CAMP program here at St. Edward’s,” Saldana said. “Both my parents and my grandparents were migrant workers. I’ve always had to work hard for what I had, and on the basketball court you have to be dedicated.”

More than that, though, his upbringing was not an easy one, but one filled with constant struggle.

“My childhood was horrible,” Saldana said. “I came up from drugs, I watched violence around me and I wasn’t disciplined. My hero is my uncle, Daniel Pearson, who really changed the way I view life. He taught me how to be a man—without him I wouldn’t be the man I am today.”

Through hardship and struggle, one thing has stood out to Saldana: perseverance.

“So many people told me that I was never going to make it because I am short, but I did,” Saldana said. “It feels good to make my younger brothers Immanuel, Abraham and Jeremiah proud. They tell me all the time, ‘dude, you are my hero.’”

The men’s basketball team will be back on the courts when they host the St. Edward’s University Shootout Nov. 9 and 10.