Every night across the country, as one-sided college basketball games unwind in emptying arenas, coaches reward their non-scholarship players, or walk-ons, with a precious wedge of playing time. Few, however, will call on a group with backgrounds as striking as those who filled out George Mason’s roster this season.
Jordan Baird, a junior guard from Prince William County, auditioned for Fox’s mega-hit show “American Idol” and later competed on “The X Factor.”
Jacob Hoxie, a 24-year-old sophomore guard-forward from North Carolina, was stationed with the Marines in Okinawa, Japan, before pursuing basketball again. And Bryce Lewis, a junior guard from New Jersey, worked behind the scenes with the George Mason program two years ago before being encouraged by the players to try out for the squad.
“I didn’t think I could ever play Division I,” said Lewis, a 5-foot-9 ballhandler. “There’s definitely a bond with the three of us. We all know we’re not on scholarship and there’s a certain sense of work ethic. We’ve got to push the scholarship guys and maybe get some time out there.”
Of the three, Lewis has made the most appearances (five) for the Patriots, who are 17-5 overall and 9-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association entering Saturday’s home game against James Madison. Combined, the trio has played 11 minutes, with Baird and Hoxie making one basket apiece and Lewis posting two assists — standard numbers for players whose value is measured in practices, not games.
Ten players tried out this season, and although the coaching staff planned to select two, “we felt those three really fit what we were looking for,” said assistant Mike Wells, who oversaw the preseason process. “You are looking for guys who are serious about basketball and won’t be overwhelmed physically.”
After his senior year at Stonewall Jackson High in Manassas, Baird was among thousands at an “American Idol” tryout in Orlando. He sang Nick Lachey’s “What’s Left of Me” and Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” to Simon Cowell and the other TV judges. A short clip appeared on the show. “The girls liked it,” he said of the four judges, “the guys didn’t.” His Hollywood dreams were dashed.
Baird had more success in 2010, submitting a video for a national contest sponsored by Sony and Six Flags. He was chosen to perform at the amusement park’s location in Prince George’s County as part of an opening act for pop group Hot Chelle Rae and British boy band JLS. That led to an offer to record a song for Sony’s Jive Records. “Grateful,” an acoustic solo performance, went up on iTunes and YouTube last year.
He tried again with “American Idol” in 2010 — but again failed to earn a ticket to Hollywood — and traveled to Seattle last year for auditions in “The X Factor,” a first-year Fox talent show. He performed in front of several thousand at Key Arena but wasn’t chosen as one of the 17 national finalists.