Walker gets point on basketball future
DePaul to turn ball over more to former Bolingbrook star
Back at Bolingbrook High School, Will Walker used to be nearly unguardable. He could pull up for the long-range jumper and get that swish. He could get to the rim and drop it in. He could stop mid-range and knock it down if he wanted.
It was completely up to him how he sought to beat you. Walker feared no one and never lacked confidence in his game. He was as good as anyone coming out of high school in Illinois in 2006.
Then for 2½ seasons at DePaul, Walker lost that mentality. He lost that confidence. He lost that swagger. He lost that ability.
Finally, midway through last season, he found it again. From Jan. 31, when he put up 23 points against Rutgers, to closing the season with a 31-point performance against Providence, Walker's numbers matched up with the best in the Big East. He was the Will Walker of old.
"It was tough to get through, but it also was a turning point in my college career, with me breaking out of a shell," said Walker, who averaged 19.7 points over his past 12 games. "I think toward later in the year I was just playing ball. I was back in high school. I felt like I could score more."
Now heading into his final season with the Blue Demons, Walker is being asked to do even more. He will again be expected to put up similar scoring numbers -- someone has to fill in for the early departure of last season's leading scorer Dar Tucker -- but Walker will also now be responsible for manning the point and distributing the ball.
Just like back at Bolingbrook where he averaged 30 points and dished out seven assists, Walker will be looked to to be the ultimate combo guard.
"We really have needed his scoring, so he's played off the ball a lot," DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said of his lone senior. "I think this year we have to really put the ball in his hands more. We have to be able to get both out of him to be successful. I think he's a guy who helps our other players and helps his offense. "He's always been a guy who, if you tell him, 'Will, we need you to do this,' he'll do it."
It's a role Walker asked for, too. With dreams of playing professionally when his DePaul career is over, Walker understands teams are more likely to give him a paycheck as an average-sized 6-foot point guard rather than as a miniature shooting guard.
Walker began preparing for that transition over the offseason. Unlike during his first three years, he stayed at DePaul the entire summer. He also cut out his outside influences, those people who always thought they knew what was best for him, and he stuck with relying on his college coaches and his father for advice. Most importantly, he spent countless hours in the gym improving his ballhandling, decision-making, his quickness and passing.
"I went back to my grass roots," Walker said. "I worked all summer on my [point guard] skills. All the time in open gyms I was playing the 1. I just want to make it very hard to stop me from doing what I want to do. If you get too close to me, I'm going to blow by you. If you give me room, I'm going to shoot over you. If you sag off, I can hit the open guy. I just want to make it all-around where I'm playing my best."
With that, DePaul also hopes he will be playing at his best. No one has any plans of repeating what happened last season as the Blue Demons went 0-18 in the Big East and 9-24 overall.
"I'm ready to bounce back and have a good year," Walker said. "I always want to win, but this is kind of different, being my last year. I've never been to the NCAAs in my college career. I hope we can get there."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.