Saluki point guard Kourtney Goff is not your typical walk-on
Saluki Media Services
To Saluki fans who have yet to see junior point guard Kourtney Goff play, they may picture him as just another walk-on who will sub-in for a minute here or there at the end of a blowout.
The Rochester, N.Y. native visibly cringes at that description.
“Sometimes, I hear or see myself in the media referred to as just a walk-on, but I don’t think of myself that way,” he said. “I wouldn’t come all the way to Illinois to walk-on and not play.”
In fact, if the first exhibition game is any indication, Goff has already carved out a role for himself. Against Illinois-Springfield, he played 18 minutes, hawking the UIS point guards the length of the floor. His superb quickness generated a whopping four steals.
“I want people to look at me as just a basketball player, and that’s my challenge,” he explained. “I know what I’ve done to get to this point, and nobody can take that away from me — that’s something God gave me.”
Goff has been hungry for a Division I opportunity since his days at Greece Athena High School in Rochester. He was the city’s Class AA Player of the Year in 2008 and was close to signing with St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies ended up taking a JUCO player instead.
“I was getting lots of Division II offers, but when I went on visits (to Division I), I saw guards who were really strong and physical,” he said. “At the time I weighed about 165-170 pounds and wasn’t very muscular.”
He decided his best option was the junior college route, where he could bulk up and fine-tune his game, so he signed with Olive Harvey College in Chicago. He cracked the starting lineup early in his freshman year, played in the Chancellor Cup All-Star game and was on the verge of getting a Division I offer when he suffered a torn meniscus in his knee.
After sitting out the 2009-10 season to rehab, Goff had a superb sophomore season, averaging 9.8 points, 5.1 assists and 2.3 steals. Still, he didn’t get the big-time offer he was hoping for.
Goff figured his last shot was to get noticed at a JUCO invitational in New Jersey last summer. Saluki assistant coach Anthony Stewart happened to be there, was impressed, and called him two days later. Goff was ecstatic at first, but cautious until he got a follow-up call from head coach Chris Lowery. Southern Illinois had done its homework on him and was officially inviting him to join the team as a walk-on.
“I told them I’m definitely hungry and this is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for,” Goff said. “Coach told me I’d have an opportunity to play. He said they looked at my background, what type of person I am off the court, on the court, my work ethic. They talked to a lot of people I didn’t even expect them to talk to beyond my coaches, so I knew they really wanted me.”
When you talk to Goff, you get the sense he’s much older and wiser than the typical 21-year-old. The youngest of three boys born to Kelvin and Linda Goff, he grew up looking out for his older brother, Kelvin, Jr., who has cerebral palsy.
“It was like a reverse role a lot of time,” he said, his voice wavering. “I had to do a lot to take care of my older brother. If people would make fun of my brother, I would not accept it at all.”
Goff said his motto is to treat everyone with respect, and he is especially sensitive to the needs of the disabled.
“I was brought up to treat people right,” he said. “Do unto others as you’d have done unto you.”
Although Kelvin, Sr. was a strict disciplinarian, Goff’s dad was always there to pick him up when he’d get down about school, basketball or life in general.
“I see now why he was hard on us, because the world is hard,” Goff explained. “He built me into the man that I am today.”
Goff said he still talks to his parents every day.
“Anything that goes on in my life, they’ve always steered me in the right direction,” he said. “Without my family, I probably wouldn’t be too much of nothing.”
With five freshmen on the Saluki roster and a host of newcomers, the seasoned Goff has quickly become a mentor to his younger teammates.
“Coach Lowery has told me to take on a leadership role, being that I am a point guard — not just between the lines, but in the classroom, in society and the community,” he said. “We have a lot of freshmen, and I try to make sure they keep their head on straight. They are all good guys, so it’s not like you have to be on them. They’re all good kids.”
And so is Kourtney Goff — a walk-on who Saluki fans will be quick to embrace.