SMU's Charlie Severs a benchwarmer - with grit

He’s never hit a game-winning basket.

Never been mobbed by elated fans rushing the court after he sparked a comeback win. Never led his team in scoring, steals or assists.

Yet Saint Martin's guard Charlie Severs, a seldom-used backup who averages 0.5 points over four seasons, has been voted by his teammates and coaches as the team's most inspirational player three times.

The Saints senior is a cinch to win it a fourth time.

“Charlie is a very special player,” Saints coach Keith Cooper said. “I’ve never coached a player like him. He gives it all he has all the time, and he knows he’s still not going to play.”

Cooper is thinking about naming the team’s most inspirational award after Severs.

“I kind of feel sorry for the starters,” Severs said. “They only get to play two games a week. I play five.”

Practices are his games.

Since Severs’ freshman year, when he survived a month-long tryout for walk-ons, he has been the definition of inspiration. He runs every sprint and does every drill like it’s his last.

Most players are driven by the hope of getting more playing time. Severs’ goal is simply to push his teammates. No starter wants to be outhustled by the team’s 12th man.

“It looks bad if he’s working hard and you’re not,” said Bill Richardson, Saint Martin’s all-conference forward who graduated after last season. “Especially since it’s a guy who doesn’t play much, and you see him out there trying. You have no excuse.”

The 6-foot-3 Severs is a fan favorite. When he matched his career high by swishing a 10-foot jump hook in a recent 21-point win against Pacific Lutheran, fans cheered like he just sank the game-winner.

“I’m so proud of him,” said Lucy Severs, Charlie’s mom and biggest fan. “He fell in love with sports when he was little. He said he didn’t want to give up the dream.”

Severs’ career stats read like game stats. He has attempted 13 field goals and made five. He’s scored a total of 18 points, seven his freshman year.

Over the past three seasons, Severs played in 10, 11 and six games. Yet he still inspires. He has already played in nine of 11 games in the Saints’ 10-1 start this season. He has averaged just 2.2 minutes in the 35 games he’s played over four seasons.

Yet Severs has never missed a practice or skipped a workout in the offseason. He went to weight training five days a week over the summer, made every conditioning workout in the fall and attended every spring workout.

“It’s part of the deal,” Cooper said. “When we invited him to play on the team his freshman year, we told him he couldn’t miss. There were no guarantees.”

Before telling Severs he had made the team, Cooper asked him to read “Life from the End of the Bench,” a story about Alan Williams’ backup role at Wake Forest. Severs read the book in a day.

“I went into this with the idea not to expect anything and just give everything I’ve got,” Severs said.

Severs was one of five players invited to fall workouts his freshman year. There were days he’d come and not play. Yet he never missed a practice.

“There were other players more talented,” Cooper said. “But he was the hardest worker.”

Severs was a three-sport starter at Oakville High School, a tiny B school southwest of Olympia. He was all-league in football and baseball, but not basketball. An honors student majoring in engineering, Severs is on an academic scholarship. But he wanted basketball to be part of his college experience.

“I wasn’t ready to let the dream die,” Severs said. “I’ll always play basketball.”

His contributions can’t be measured by points, rebounds or assists.

“A lot of people won’t believe this, but he’s a big part of our success. He sets the standard,” Cooper said. “It’s a character thing. It’s not about his stats.”

Severs has never used his off-the-charts commitment as collateral for playing time. To the relief of his coach, Severs is content with being the team’s designated practice player. He’s the Saints’ equivalent to the Seattle Seahawks’ 12th Man. With one exception: He suits up and sits on the bench, giving him the best seat in the gym.

“Problems with chemistry on a team start at the end of the bench,” Cooper said. “Guys complaining about a lack of playing time can hurt a team.”

He rarely makes the road trips, but he was included on trips to Hawaii, Florida, Montana and Alaska.

“People ask me why I do this,” Severs said. “I say I’m having fun. But the real reason is for my teammates. They appreciate it.”

Usually, the most inspirational award goes to a starter, the top scorer or the player who plays the most minutes. It doesn’t go to the guy on the end of the bench.

“It’s humbling to know my teammates appreciate what I do,” Severs said. “I just go to practice each day and try my hardest. That’s what it comes down to.

“I just consider myself lucky.”

It’s safe to say the Saints feel the same way.

Gail Wood: 360-754-5443