He’s just one of the guys.
Or, in this case, one of the girls.
And though he’s not the first and probably won’t be the last, at the moment, senior psychology major Mike Mullen is the lone male practice player on the women’s basketball team.
Five days a week, except during road trips and on game days, Mullen either wakes up for 6 a.m. practices or heads to the Liacouras Center or McGonigle Hall after classes for the evening ones.
“He’s on the team. Mike is really on the team,” senior forward Shenita Landry said. “He’s been here for two years. He wakes up and comes to 6 a.m. practice. He comes to evening practice. Everything. He’s truly one of us. You see him around campus, and it’s the same. You sit down and talk to him. Honestly, he helps us just like a regular teammate.”
Mullen joined the practice squad at the beginning of last year after a friend told him the team needed more people. That friend ended up quitting after a few days, but Mullen has stuck it out since.
“It’s better than just going to the Pavilion and playing basketball. It’s actually a much better workout,” he said. “And they’re all very accepting. They’re all cool with it. I’m just glad that I can help.”
Mullen doesn’t spend time working with any specific players. Rather, he and four of the women form a practice squad and act out the upcoming opponent’s plays.
“Most of us have played with guys before if you want to play on this level, but playing with him, he actually really helps us better our game because he jumps higher, he shoots, he’s better than all of us,” Landry said. “In order to be a great defensive player, you’ve got to be able to stop him.”
Mullen echoed those thoughts and explained why he helps the women’s team instead of the men’s.
“Well, the men don’t really need it because they can just play against each other. They’re all better than me anyway,” he said. “Some of us are better than the women, well not maybe better, but faster and some of us are stronger. So it’s more useful for us to help them.”
Perhaps the toughest part for Mullen, though, is that his help can’t physically extend onto the court on game day. He can only sit by idly in the stands as the game unfolds in front of him.
“It’s interesting because you recognize what’s going on, and I’m familiar with all the team’s plays now so sometimes you feel like you can yell something out to them,” he said. “It might be the opposing team forgot to do something like set up a play, and you see it happen.”
But for freshman forward Kristen McCarthy, just showing up to support the team at its games is enough.
“He’s just been awesome. He’s been here,” she said. “He doesn’t really miss any practices, and it shows how much he cares. He doesn’t get anything for this. He just does it out of the goodness of his heart.”
The love didn’t end there.
“I always see him. He comes to all the games. He supports us on and off the court,” McCarthy added.
And that’s what teammates are for.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Mullen said. “You feel like a part of something.”
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.