During the last few minutes of any Utah basketball blowout victory, you can hear the chant emanating from the student section opposite the Ute bench.

"Sloo-ga, Sloo-ga, Sloo-ga," comes the chorus, bringing smiles to the faces of Ute players, particularly No. 25, who, if he's lucky, might get anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes of mop-up duty.Meet Brandon Sluga, who has been a member of the Ute basketball team longer than every player except Andre Miller and Alex Jensen . . . even if he is unfamiliar to the average Ute fan.

Sluga is the old-timer, the graybeard, if you will, of the Ute gray squad (they're called the gray squad because they usually wear gray shirts in practice, while the scholarship players wear red or white).

Being a gray squad member appears to be a most thankless job. The gray squad guys are the lackeys who basically serve as punching bags for the scholarship players.

They practice several hours a day but rarely get to play in a game, perhaps enjoying just handful of minutes per year. Some can't endure a whole season, as evidenced by the fact that only four of the six original members of this year's gray squad remain. Most last just one season.

The gray squad has been an annual tradition for teams coached by Majerus, who never made a basketball team until he went to Marquette University and walked on Al McGuire's team. Ever since, Majerus has held a soft spot for walk-ons, and he makes sure his team is stocked with about a half dozen every year.

The star pupil of this year's gray squad is Sluga, the first third-year walk-on Majerus has ever coached. While he rarely gets in a game, Sluga's the most vocal guy on the bench and a terrific back-slapper. In practice, he sets screens and plays plenty of defense, doing the dirty work to get the main players ready for the next game.

"It's a lot of hard work," says Sluga. "One day you'll work all day long, and the next day you'll do a lot of sitting. We all have our roles and have to be ready to jump in and be ready to go."

Sluga is the youngest son of longtime Bingham High coaching legend George Sluga. After the 1995 state tournament, Majerus approached young Sluga and asked if he'd consider "walking on" the Ute team the following fall.

Majerus knew Sluga wasn't a great player -- he barely scored in double figures on occasion for Bingham High and was known more for his defense and rebounding. But the Ute coach had watched Sluga at his camps for several summers and recognized traits that made him a perfect candidate for the gray squad. He hasn't been disappointed.

"I love Sluga," says Majerus, calling him by his last name as he does many of his players. "He's terrific, his attitude is outstanding. He makes our players better every day in practice. He's happy for his teammates' success. He personifies what the gray squad is all about."

And what does Majerus think of Sluga as a player? Let's just say, he's never going to call on his favorite walk-on in the middle of a tense game. "He's got a bad body and bad ability," says Majerus. "I tell my players, look at this guy -- he has no ability. Why can't you play with the same great zeal and passion he has? I love the kid."

While the 6-1, 190-pound Sluga may have more confidence in his ability than his coach, he doesn't kid himself about why he's been a member of one of the top programs in America for three years.

"My big thing (in high school) was defense like it is now," he said. "That's what I've always been able to do. It's not because of talent obviously or else I'd have a scholarship."

In three years, Sluga has scored a grand total of six points, two each season. This year he got his two points in the win over High Point College when he calmly stepped up and swished two free throws.

Playing in games is a bonus for Sluga, who recognizes his role as helping get the main players ready each week. He'll often call out plays the opponent is running and makes sure he yells "butter" with the rest of the reserves whenever the shot clock is winding down.

"He's very smart," says Majerus. "He'll be a great coach someday."

"My dad always helped with the mental part of the game and he still does," says Sluga. "I'm able to go home after the game and bounce ideas off him."

Although he didn't travel much his first year, Sluga was just like a scholarship player during last year's NCAA tournament, going on every trip and suiting up for every game.

This year, with the Utes being a scholarship short, Sluga became a regular on the travel squad, going with the team to Maui, as well as San Diego, Honolulu, Long Beach, Chicago and Texas.

"You're one of the top 13 players and you get treated very well," he said. "How can I complain about going to San Antonio last year?"

So will Sluga be back next year as a fourth-year walk-on?

Not if he can graduate in December, which is a good possibility for the exercise and sports science major who wants to become a physician's assistant.

"I've had so many great kids on the gray squad," said Majerus, reeling off a list of players that includes Jeff Connolly, Chris Jones and Ryan Hunt. "I had one kid I called Big Red . . . I didn't even know his name."

Although he still usually calls him "Sluga," even Majerus is gaining more respect for the consummate walk-on the longer he sticks around.

"As the years have gone on, 'Brandon' has become much more common and I appreciate that," Sluga said.

It's possible Sluga may never play another minute as a Ute now that the WAC season has begun. But he'll still show up to practice every day and put a smile on the face of his coach.

"It's always an upbeat part of my day when I see him," says Majerus. "He's inspirational."

Oh, and about that extra scholarship the Utes had open this year? Last month, Majerus awarded it to Sluga for winter semester.