David Walker found his stride early in Casper College’s all-important game against Gillette College on Feb. 19 at Swede Erickson Thunderbird Gym.
First, the 6-foot-4 sophomore guard drove to the rim and finished in traffic to get the T-Birds on the board. Following a Gillette 3-pointer, Walker answered with a triple of his own from 25 feet. On Casper’s next possession, Walker beat his defender on the wing and dribbled through two other defenders, finishing with a layup over a fourth Pronghorn.
By the time the game was over – a 99-91 victory that all but clinched the No. 2 seed in the Region IX North sub-region for the T-Birds – Walker had a game-high 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting to go along with four assists, three steals and a highlight-reel dunk off an alley-oop.
It’s what Casper College fans have come to expect from Walker, who enters Saturday’s Region IX Tournament play-in game against Laramie County Community College averaging 22.2 points per game on 55.0 percent shooting.
“He’s as gifted a scorer that I’ve seen,” first-year Casper College head coach Shaun Gutting said. “Just being able to finish with both hands … his frame allows him to get to places a lot of guards can’t. His overall natural strength and his ability to finish around bigs and over bigs, whatever he needs to do, he’s continually been able to do it. And that’s something that travels to every level of the game.”
The next level for Walker is Division I. He’ll play at the University of South Alabama in the Sun Belt Conference next year.
Walker’s basketball trajectory has been a mercurial one. He played just two years at Downsview Secondary High in Toronto before landing at the College of Southern Idaho for one year before transferring to Casper College. Not bad for someone who first picked up a basketball eight years ago.
“With basketball, my friends played so I just kind of picked it up and started playing,” Walker explains. “After that, it was just hard work from there. It came natural to a point. Even when I stopped working on my game I just kept progressing regardless. I just got better.”
Walker’s basketball talents served another purpose outside of getting him a Division I scholarship; they kept him alive.
“The area where I grew up in Toronto there were people dying every day,” he said. “You’re either going to do something with your life or you’re going to let it get the best of you. I couldn’t mess with the streets.”
His first break in getting away from that situation came in the form of Lester Stewart.
Stewart, at the time an assistant coach at College of Southern Idaho, noticed Walker’s natural ability two years ago. With the Golden Eagles needing an off-guard to replace NJCAA All-American Charles Jones Jr., they brought in Walker for a workout.
“I worked him out and told our head coach, ‘He can’t leave here without signing,’” said Stewart, who is now a Casper College assistant coach. “Just from the workout I could tell he was so athletically gifted.”
Walker committed to CSI and averaged 13.4 points as a freshman.
But when the Golden Eagles got a new coach after the season, Walker began looking elsewhere.
David Walker doesn’t carry himself like a man who has his sights firmly set on playing in the NBA. Comfortable and talkative among his teammates, he has a tendency to shuffle his feet and be in constant movement when being interviewed. He has yet to learn the art of the cliché-riddled answers that athletes often fall back on. Instead, Walker listens intently and pauses for a moment before answering, often taking the time to be sure his reply, no matter the question, makes sense.
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Ask him what he likes to do when he isn’t playing basketball and Walker pulls on the drawstring of his Casper College hoodie and looks into the distance before answering.
“I like to write poetry because that’s a fun thing to do,” Walker then said with a smile. “I have always liked to take time out and think about life and society and write about them. And I read a lot of books so I can have knowledge.”
Those are traits passed down to Walker from his mother, Mekesha Shepard. Walker’s mother and father are separated, but between them they have at least seven children (I admittedly lost count as Walker rattled off their names), of which Walker is the second-oldest.
Any mention of his family brings an immediate smile to Walker’s face.
“My family means the most to me,” he said. “I love them with all my heart. Regardless of whether I played basketball they always believed in me. My family has always has been my support system.”
And while Walker is more than 1,500 miles away from his family, they are the reason he continues to push himself on the basketball court.
“At the end of the day I have to provide for my mom and for my family,” he admitted. “I play basketball to pursue my dream and reach my goal … the NBA is where I want to go so that I can give back to my family.”
Making it to the NBA might seem like a stretch, but Gutting and Stewart, and especially Walker, all believe there’s a good chance he’ll get there. At 6-4 and about 205 pounds, Walker has the size and strength to get to the rim almost at will. Throw in the fact that he’s shooting 45.4 percent from behind the arc – after shooting just 23 percent from distance last year – and the offensive skillset is in place.
“Getting to the basket is so easy for him,” Stewart said. “In our region he’s as big as some guys that play the forward position and he’s just stronger than everyone that guards him. There’s not one person that can stay in front of him without touching him.
“I can see him doing that at the next level. His body control is not something that you see at the junior college level and sometimes not even at the Division I level. With how he can contort his body in the air that’s more of a pro-type of thing.”
Walker is far from a finished product, though. He’s had games where finishes with just one or two rebounds and he’s still learning how to be an effective defender and a more-efficient practice player. Gutting also knows the strides Walker has made in those areas since arriving on campus.
“I think the thing that’s impressed me the most about David is that he’s come a long way from where he was as far as his day-to-day habits,” he said. “He just needs to get better in other aspects of the game. The good thing is that David knows it now and he has really tried to make a conscious effort to make those changes.”
Walker’s days as a T-Bird are numbered. Every game from here on out could be the last for him and the six other sophomores on the Casper College roster. When it does end, Walker will move on to South Alabama and then, hopefully, to the NBA. Although Walker has no doubt that’s where his path leads.
“I feel like I’ve worked hard to get to this point and I feel like I have so much potential,” he reiterated. “If I just say in the gym and keep working hard I can get to the NBA, I believe that 100 percent. Nothing is easy, but nothing has been easy for me so far.
“But I won’t lie, I wouldn’t think I would ever get to this position. With where I grew up I would think I would have been a statistic.”
That Walker didn’t become a statistic and that his main reason for making it to the NBA one day is so he can provide for his family can’t be understated. And to see the maturity in which Walker approaches the hand he’s been dealt and tries to make the most of it is impressive.
“It’s rewarding,” Gutting said. “Lester and I talk about this all the time … we’re excited to see him play next year and we’re excited to see him play in the future.
“But ultimately I’m excited to see what kind of man he turns out to be. I know he wants to be responsible for other people and what excites me is seeing him be able to do that. I’m hopeful for his future and I’m excited to see him become that person.”
Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @CASJackN
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