Grounded Walker remembers roots

The qualities that made Kemba Walker a Big-East All-Rookie team selection at UConn are on display at Dyckman, a streetball tournament in Inwood.

First is his finishing ability, the former Rice star soaring through the air and lofting a silky smooth runner that cuts through the nets like a knife through butter. Then there is his defense, an in-your-face style that has endeared him to coaches, and makes life so difficult for the opposition. Just ask Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose, who Walker shut down in high school.

His speed is next, Walker flying past defenders like they aren’t there, zooming from one end of the court to other in mere seconds. Last is his fearlessness, his habit of driving into the lane, amongst the trees, flying over men twice his age built with muscle upon muscle.

Bingo Cole, Walker’s coach on the Bingo All-Stars and a longtime friend, cherishes these qualities. But the veteran AAU coach has one he likes even more.

“Kemba is so humble,” he said of the Bronx native. “He doesn’t act like he played in the Big East and went to the Final Four. He doesn’t change who he is. That’s why I love him. He doesn’t come back to get 50 or 60 points. He plays team ball and does what he can to help the Bingo All-Stars win a game.”

Before he joined the Bronx-based Gauchos AAU program and emerged as a McDonald’s All-American for Mo Hicks at Rice, Walker learned the game on the black top. He played in The Rucker’s unlimited league when he was 16 and spent time at Dyckman, Hoops in the Sun and the Tri-State Classic last summer. If not for NCAA rules, Walker said he would play in more leagues this summer.

Walker, 19, said it still helps him, the physical games against former pros. At Dyckman, he is simply known as EZ Pass, the nickname he was given for his frequent forays into the lane. Nothing is handed to him. His Big East pedigree doesn’t hold special meaning.

Walker enjoyed a solid freshmen year for UConn coach Jim Calhoun, averaging 8.9 points per game and 3.5 rebounds, as the Huskies made the Final Four. In the Elite Eight, he put forth a remarkable performance – 23 points, five rebounds, five assists – in an 82-75 win over Missouri.

Walker is relentlessly working on his jump shot, the one admitted weakness to his game. Every morning, he goes to St. Raymond’s gym with former Ravens and Division I standouts like Brian Laing and Frank Elegar and his Bingo All-Stars teammate Kenny Satterfield, who starred for Cincinnati.

Walker has a month until he returns to Connecticut, when he looks to build on his first year in the Big East. Until then, he will be working like he always has, playing streetball like he always has.

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