AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -A lot of college teams have walk-ons, players who earn their uniform and place at the end of the bench by being an extra body in practice.
They can play, but are usually too short or too slow to compete with elite, scholarship athletes. They pay for school and slug their way through grueling hours of drills and sprints with the slim hope of playing a few minutes at the end of blowouts.
Ian Mooney is that guy for No. 12 Texas (13-2), only this 6-foot-3 forward has come up big in the last two games for the Longhorns, earning him playing time nobody would have expected.
``They always told me to be prepared,'' said Mooney, who has graduated and is working on an advanced degree. ``You have to be ready because when (the coach) calls your number, that may be the only shot you're going to get.''
Mooney's big break came against TCU on Jan. 2. Fed up, coach Rick Barnes played Mooney for 14 minutes in a close game that Texas eventually won 67-59.
Mooney hustled on defense and set several hard screens. His only field goal of the game gave Texas a 33-32 lead late in the first half. He grabbed a key rebound late in the second half that helped the Longhorns hold the lead.
A few days later, Mooney played 12 minutes in an 81-62 win over Saint Mary's, a game Texas trailed for much of the first half. Barnes put him in early, and Mooney gave the same kind of effort.
At one point against Saint Mary's, Texas point guard D.J. Augustin, who scored 30 points, asked Barnes to keep Mooney in the game, which the coach called ``the ultimate compliment.''
``The thing we've tried to get done with our young players, who obviously are talented, is get them to do the things Ian does for us. Finally I said, 'Maybe the best way for guys to see it is to watch him do it,''' Barnes said.
Mooney's minutes have meant less time for frontcourt players Dexter Pittman, Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene, but no one resents his new role, Augustin said.
``We're not that kind of team. Mooney is taking advantage of his time,'' Augustin said. ``Ian does everything. He dives on the floor, he sets screens, he gets loose rebounds.
``People think basketball is all about scoring. He head hunts (on screens). Coach Barnes calls him the best screener on the team and I agree. It's good for freshmen to see how hard they have to work.''
Mooney went to high school in Austin, leading his team to the Texas private school state championship. He walked on at Saint Louis University, where he saw little playing time in two seasons before deciding to come back home.
He is close friends with former Longhorn Brad Buckman and spent a summer in Austin playing pickup games with Texas players who knew him well when he transferred to walk on.
``I was figuring if I was not going to play at (Saint Louis), I might as well not play here,'' he said.
Even as a walk-on, NCAA transfer rules still required he sit out the 2005-06 season as Texas advanced to the NCAA tournament regional final. Last season, he played in six games, scoring one point in a total of 24 minutes.
Mooney always figured his role was to be a good teammate who helped the Longhorns by working hard in practice. He also carries a good sense of humor.
In a questionnaire for the team Web site, he lists his favorite musician as Neil Diamond and describes his game as ``anti-gravity - just kidding.''
He says the best piece of advice he's ever received came from his father: ``If you mess up once, it's a mistake. If you mess up twice, you're stupid.''
And if given the chance, how would he change the college recruiting process? ``I wish I could go back in time and actually be recruited,'' he said.
Mooney recognizes his minutes may be limited once Texas gets into Big 12 play, and he doesn't seem to mind that Barnes may have simply used him the last two games to light a fire under his team.
``Sometimes they use me as a carrot to get the other guys going, which is fine,'' Mooney said. ``I trust Coach not to sell me short. I've put some time in where he knows I can do it. There's going to be some games where I'm playing more and some where I'm not.''
Mooney figures he's lucky, marveling at how a guy like him can be a friend and teammate of former Longhorns LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant, who are now in the NBA.
``It's going to be an honor to say later in life that I was their teammate,'' he said. ``It is fun to be a part of.''

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