Andrew Del Piero began making headlines in Baton Rouge before ever donning an LSU basketball uniform.
Not because he was a big-shot, can’t-miss recruit every fan had heard about.
But because he was, well, the opposite.
Del Piero had not played organized basketball since his freshman year of high school. He had spent his first two years at LSU as a tuba player, on scholarship, in the marching band.
You had to root for a guy like that. You had to cheer when he entered the game.
But Del Piero, all 7-foot-3, 254 pounds of him, has spent the early part of his third season in the LSU basketball program playing a new song.
He’s scoring. He’s blocking shots. He’s playing valuable minutes.
No longer the awkward, wobbly reserve whose lack of experience left him struggling to fit in, Del Piero is producing results on the court to match his giant frame and compelling background.
“That’s been a goal of mine since this all started, to get to the point where people would start seeing me as a basketball player rather than the tuba-playing walk-on,” Del Piero said.
Del Piero officially dropped the “walk-on” title in August when coach Johnny Jones gave him a scholarship. But that was no surprise given the Tigers, hammered by attrition following Del Piero’s junior year, had plenty of scholarships available and the center from Austin, Texas, was entering his final season.
The validation of Del Piero’s improvements began to truly take shape in LSU’s second game against McNeese State.
Del Piero saw the first action of his career outside of garbage time, entering late in the first half. He finished with seven points, four rebounds and one block in eight minutes.
“It felt really good to get in the game when the game was still in the balance,” Del Piero said. “I felt like I actually had something to do with the outcome.”
Then, a couple weeks later, LSU played Seton Hall.
No one was injured. Or suspended.
But there was Del Piero minutes before tip-off, looking up at the dry-erase board in the LSU locker room and seeing his name mentioned as a starter.
“I think I made it pretty clear that it wasn’t a circus act or anything else,” Jones said. “I think it’s primarily because of the work he’s put in during practice. He hasn’t let up.”
Del Piero has started two more games since then.
Late in an 80-67 victory over Chattanooga, over the span of 33 seconds, he completed an alley-oop dunk, blocked two shots and tipped in an offensive rebound.
The Pete Maravich Assembly Center, as if Shaquille O’Neal had entered the building, sounded like a giant tuba.
Del Piero hopes it will be more moments like those — rather than the simple sight of him tapping the scorer’s table to check in a game — that make the home crowd rock.
If the strong start keeps up, he may soon get his wish.
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved