Sunday, September 21, 2008

Playing H-O-R-S-E Against Billy Walker


I’ve got an interesting story about Celtics’ rookie Billy Walker. Who’s he? Bill Walker was born on October 9, 1987 in Huntington, West Virginia. He was selected out of Kansas State University by Wizards with the 47th overall pick in the second round of the 2008 NBA Draft, but was traded shortly thereafter to the Celtics in exchange for cash considerations. In the year ’06, Billy started his college career, but he saw action in just six games with five starts as a freshman, because he suffered a season-ending rupture of ACL in his left knee against Texas A&M. He had successful surgery on Jan. 19, 2007, and then began the rehabilitation process. Walker enrolled at KSU as a part-time student in order to be eligible to play on December 16, 2006, the start of the second semester. He had an immediate impact on the team, averaging 11.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in his first six games. However, then came the devastating injury. But for him, this wasn’t news - it was the second time he suffered this type of injury, going through surgery and rehab in his right knee back in 2003. In the 2007-08 season, Walker averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds in 31 games. He tied his career-high with 31 points. On April 14, 2008, Walker announced along with teammate Michael Beasley that he would enter the 2008 NBA Draft and thus forgo his last three years of NCAA eligibility.

His S&W, according to Draft.net:

Strengths: An absolutely jaw dropping, electrifying dunker capable of getting air like the greatest dunkers of all time, Jordan, Dominique, Vince Carter, Josh Smith etc. ... His leg strength and explosiveness is off the charts ... His skill level is still catching up, but he has shown tremendous progress over the past year ... Improvements have been seen in shooting, feel for the game, as well as creating offense off the dribble ... Over powers opponents with his body strength, and it will only get better as he's just a 18 year old pup ... Has a killer instinct, with a real nasty side to his personality. Has no problem dominating inferior competition, competes hard ... His upside is incredible, but for now he's a superstar athlete developing into a quality basketball player ...

Weaknesses: Can get away with using his athleticism to dominate on the high school level, but he's also working hard on his skill set and it's showing positive results ... A little stuck in between positions as a 6-5 small forward, but can become a shooting guard with work on his skills ... Has a bit of a temper, which can get the best of him at times ... Needs maturity and composure ... Has very thick legs, and while he is quick, he lacks some of the quickness in his first step that many thinner wing players posses ... Despite his aggressiveness and ability to tap into a nasty side, he also can coast at times ... He must learn to develop better work habits and stay focused to maximize his abilities ... His jumpshot off the dribble is a work in progress ... Has had some knee tendenitis issues over his high school career, but it doesn't appear to be a lingering problem ... Had some off court issues (fighting with a classmate) along with OJ Mayo in his junior year ...

Many considered Walker, who was a childhood friend and high school teammate of more heralded prospect OJ Mayo, a lottery pick, but he suffered the third knee injury in his career during a workout at Warriors facility on June 15. He remained in the draft despite the injury, and was selected with the 47th overall pick. As an NBA prospect, he was compared to Ruben Patterson. But that doesn’t seem too appropriate to me. He looks like Jerry Stackhouse, honestly. As a second-round pick, Walker doesn't merit a guaranteed contract, and will make a minimum of $442,114 if he makes the team. He watched the draft in Topeka, Kansas, with his AAU coach, mother and other family members.

A column about Billy Walker, written during his pre-draft camp workouts:
***
Walker was working heavily on his perimeter shooting (he shot just 31% from behind the arc this season), and indeed looked very focused on shooting the ball correctly. He’s had a tendency throughout his career to rush his release and not fully set his feet, and it’s pretty clear that they’ve been working with him on slowing down and using a more pronounced follow-through. The results were fairly solid, but not overwhelming, indicating that he still has work to do on this part of his game. He looked quite a bit better with his feet set than he did shooting off the dribble. His ball-handling ability is another part of Walker’s game that is still a work in progress. Despite having the strength to get to the basket at a very good rate thanks to his powerful strides, he needs to improve his ability to change directions with the ball and cut down on turnovers.

From what we were told, Walker has been shooting the ball a lot better in most of his workouts, which is the reason he’s created so much buzz over the past few weeks. *His shooting is very underrated,* Mike Procopio told us, *because he’s such a great athlete. It’s a little inconsistent at times, he needs to get his elbow out and elevate as high as he can. That’s what we’re working on, and he’s responding really well. I compare him to Jerry Stackhouse. He can knock down shots from 15-17 feet, and that’s what team will need him to do. That will open up his drives, and his 3-point shot will get consistent in time. When he’s open, he’ll hit them. He gets up and down on himself quickly. We’re just keeping him confident in himself. He’s impressed with the ability to make deep shots, but now he needs to just do it a little more consistently.*

Regarding the other parts of his game, Procopio had a lot to say as well. *His ball-handling is getting better. Right now he’s not a guy that will bring the ball up the court. He can score effectively off of 1 or 2 dribble drives, and that’s what he needs. In time he will improve on his ability to iso and play the pick and roll. He’s good enough to create offense for himself. If he needs to get better, bring the ball up the floor, we want him to be able to do that down the road. We do ball-handling in between sets of shooting drills. It’s a confidence thing. It will come in time. Again, I go back to Stackhouse - he was a total off the ball, alleyoop, post-up guy. Now he does everything. Billy has the fundamentals down, he’s probably the best athlete in the entire draft, and you have to respect that. The handle will come. He’s a competitive, aggressive kid. He’s a mean guy on the court, in a good way.*

Something that was especially impressive was the incredible amount of weight Walker has lost since arriving here in Chicago, according to him, over 25 pounds. His body is clearly NBA ready, and the athleticism he lost seems to be coming back, although from what we can tell, it’s still not quite at the level it was in high school.

Another thing that caught our eye was the intelligence Walker exhibits off the court. We had a chance to spend some time with him and really came away thinking that he’s an extremely bright and articulate guy, which will surely go a long ways in helping him reach his very high ceiling. It doesn’t seem like Walker will be playing in the pre-draft camp next week. He’s not ruling out going back to Kansas State, but that doesn’t seem all that likely at this point.

Thoughts from Procopio: *Frank Martin, who is one of my best friends, told me that he’s one of the smartest players he’s ever coached. I passed judgment on him before we started, and I was proven wrong. ... He absolutely loves watching tape. Right now he’s learning how to use his athleticism better and not rely too heavily on it. We’re helping him expand what he does by simplifying the game for him. Things like jabs, post-ups, turnarounds, and using athleticism to finish, instead of just creating. He’s become more effective this way now. He’s a lot more efficient using his footwork and setting people up. He’s just a very systematic player. His attitude has been fine here. He’s just an emotional kid. He’s one of our favorite guys, because he works so hard. He wants to get better. He asks so many questions. He pays attention. He’s working on the stuff we’re giving him. He is going to be a very good NBA player.*
***

And, here we are, I promised you an intriguing tale about Billy. Let my friend’s brother James Simmons tell the story:

As one of many crazy shots hurtled gracelessly away from the rim, Bill looked at my disgusted face and bluntly cried *Air-ball!* I had been here in Manhattan, Kansas, longer than he, so I should have known the playground and its rims better than this new guy from West Virginia. Hell no... Before that airball, before our contest with Bill happened, I was relieved when I found some familiar faces at Kansas State Campus Playground. It was a perfect day for basketball, shooting, one-on-one, whatever, a warm, breezy afternoon, far removed weather that it’s supposed to be in October. I stripped down to my long green athletic shorts and basketball jersey and produced a shiny new ball from my backpack. The lines and rims of the our campus’ court were immaculately kept, a sharp contrast to the hoopless rims set on slabs of pavement in some American city parks. There are lights in place for the latecomers who play into the night. The court was crammed with players; even in the US places where the game thrives more and si more traditional, basketball courts are never this busy on a weekday afternoon. Why such a huge crowd of people today? Because the young man named Bill Walker, former Cincinnati’s phenomenal high schooler.

I sized up the players - Bill and his friends while idly dribbling my ball. In the stands, there were guys sporting NBA jerseys, girls with Kansas State’s ‘Wildcats’ tops, students in pressed trousers and collared shirts, all kinds of people. When I hit the court I was introduced to Bill, a new student and our new basketball team icon here. He told me that he wants to play H-O-R-S-E not against his pals, but against somebody else. I agreed. I’m a master. My battles with my daddy are legendary.

Students started gathering around the rack to watch out contest. Bill, in his fly hoops wear, asked the question that I was looking to hear for about 20 neveredning seconds. *Game?* Wow, we dew a big crowd. In a second, the benches on the baselines were filled up with people exchanging cigarettes and observing the action, even from outside of the playground, people who don’t care about basketball came by to catch a glimpse. If the game did not intrigue them, maybe the sight of a tall black to-be-pro player did. I felt like an undeserving celebrity drawing this much attention. After all it was just a little game of shooting and we weren’t exactly Rolling Stones.

(For the people who don’t know, what is H-O-R-S-E? Every American hoops junkie has played many games of H-O-R-S-E over the course of his basketball life. The debate is it's the greatest game of all-time. Everyone loves H-O-R-S-E. During my high school years, we played were often and I had three money-in-the-bank shots at my disposal... weapon no. 1 - the free throw facing the other way, shot over my head with one hand, weapon no. 2 - the three-point shot with closed eyes and weapon no. 3 - the be-in-the-corner-of-the-court, throw-the-ball-in-the-air, run-to-the-top-of-the-key-and-back-for-the-ball-and-shoot gimmick.)

The game started. And I got my butt kicked by Bill. Simply, Billy Walker is great H-O-R-S-E player. I started the contest with my weapon no. 2... but I missed badly. He then made make consecutive shots off backboards and blacktop which I wasn’t able to repeat. I had some bad luck with my shots. In and out sort of thing. Then Bill hit a 3-pointer from the right corner while standing out of bounds. Whoa, I had a C in a couple of secs. Plus the aforementioned airball on my resume. I finally gave Bill a sweat when I got the chance to perform my weapon no.3 and a reverse layup with left hand. Walker curiosuly missed that layup. My mood climbed up the ladder. But then came the worst sequence of the day - he matched up my sitting-on-the-ground shot and hit a half-court shot. His first attempt and it was in! The he executed a peffect pass-yourself-off-the-backboard-and-slam-it-home dunk. The crowd was absolutely delirious. The atmosphere like when the Wildcats are playing actual games. As you might have guessed it, I wasn’t able to make that dunk on the first try, although I was very close...

I got an E... Game Over.

And, Bill, you’re the best. Good luck in your pro career.

p.s.: *The Star Spangled Banner’s going on right now, and I don’t celebrate that shit. I’m black,* said Josh Howard.
p.s.2: Who on earth would want to associate themselves with the radioactive Howard right now? (-Stephen A. Smith)
p.s.3: Perhaps Mark Cuban will buy out Howard's contract so that the young man can resume his career in a more sympathetic environment. Like Russia. (-Charley Rosen)
p.s.4: If you don’t know this site - http://dimemag.com/ - enjoy it. It’s a fascinating view into the world of NBA players.

Posted by Foreigner in CS - Sep 21 2008 7:18PM

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