Walker no longer a post­sea­son spec­ta­tor

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY PA­TRICK STEVENS

BAL­TI­MORE | Loy­ola bas­ket­ball coach Jimmy Pat­sos un­corked a vir­tu­oso postgame news con­fer­ence when the Grey­hounds won the Metro At­lantic Ath­letic Con­fer­ence ti­tle last week, ref­er­enc­ing ev­ery­thing from adopt­ing the at­ti­tude of ac­tivist Bobby Seale to a visit to the Guggen­heim.

Three seats down, Shane Walker was trans­fixed by some­thing far less an­i­mated than the gre­gar­i­ous Pat­sos. Right be­side Walker was the tour­na­ment cham­pi­onship tro­phy, a tan­gi­ble sym­bol of fi­nally se­cur­ing an op­por­tu­nity he once left be­hind.

Walker stared at the tro­phy while Pat­sos ram­bled on, ca­ressed it while ques­tions were di­rected at his coach and two teammates. He trans­ferred from Mary­land in 2008 af­ter one sea­son, and his old teammates en­joyed a pair of NCAA tour­na­ment ap­pear­ances.

Adrian Bowie and Dino Gre­gory and Cliff Tucker, all of whom ar­rived in Col­lege Park the same time Walker did, ex­pe­ri­enced the post­sea­son. And now, Walker will do the same.

“It just made me more hun­gry just to get there,” said Walker, whose 15th-seeded Grey­hounds (24-8) face sec­ond-seeded Ohio State (27-7) on Thurs­day in Pitts­burgh. “Ob­vi­ously, I left Mary­land with mixed emo­tions, but I al­ways wanted them to do well. But when I saw them and thought ‘I could have been there,’ I said ‘I’m go­ing to get this team there,’ and that’s what we’ve done.”

Walker played spar­ingly in his year at Mary­land, av­er­ag­ing 0.5 points and 5.3 min­utes in 24 games. He was raw, yet at 6-foot-10 with the abil­ity to hit out­side a player Pat­sos hap­pily added to his pro­gram.

Pat­sos has ju­di­ciously added trans­fers through­out his eight-year ten­ure, with the likes of An­dre Collins (via Mary­land), Ger­ald Brown (Prov­i­dence) and Erik Etherly (North­east­ern) be­com­ing all-con­fer­ence play­ers. Walker was a use­ful piece, but his ex­pe­ri­ence wasn’t al­ways as smooth as some of Pat­sos’ other ad­di­tions.

“I would have to say that, but I’ve grown up as a coach and he’s grown up as a player,” Pat­sos said. “That’s a good com­bi­na­tion. We’ve grown to­gether. We com­mu­ni­cate much dif­fer­ently. He’s like ‘Dude, I know you yell and I re­spect that be­cause that’s you are. But I’m a smart guy and you don’t have to yell at me like that.’ OK. ‘So if I don’t yell at you and just tell you what to do, you’ll do it?’ ‘Yes, I will.’ And he did it.”

Even if it meant a shift in his game.

Walker led the Grey­hounds in scor­ing a year ago, but Loy­ola needed him to pro­vide some­thing else this sea­son. So he’s taken charges. He’s blocked shots. He’s re­bounded. And he’s de­fended the likes of Iona’s Mike Glover and Ken­tucky’s An­thony Davis with­out much con­cern for his de­creased scor­ing.

“When you have a tough de­fen­sive matchup, it’s hard to give your all on the of­fen­sive end be­cause you’re giv­ing so much en­ergy on the de­fen­sive end,” Etherly said. “Him be­ing able to lock down a lot of the bet­ter big men in the coun­try and re­bound when we need him to re­bound, it’s made a big dif­fer­ence in the team.”

Pat­sos said he saw a change in Walker over the last sea­son and a half. Af­ter the Grey­hounds lost six of seven in De­cem­ber 2010, it was Walker who emerged as Pat­sos’ in­tel­lec­tual ex­ten­sion on the floor while then-fresh­man Dy­lon Cormier be­came the Grey­hounds’ emo­tional nexus.

Both play­ers sub­stan­tially im­proved this year, with Walker en­sur­ing ev­ery­one knows pre­cisely what is ex­pected of them on the court.

“He’s been a good player all three years, but this year he’s been a great team­mate,” Pat­sos said.

He also made a dif­fer­ence in Loy­ola’s 48-44 de­feat of Fair­field last week. He made two de­fen­sive re­bounds in the final 20 sec­onds and hit a free throw with two sec­onds left to clinch the vic­tory. Soon, the ti­tle tro­phy (and the elu­sive op­por­tu­nity it rep­re­sented) was in his arms.

“It means the world to me,” Walker said. “It means so much that I can do this, not just for our team, but the whole com­mu­nity. Not just Loy­ola Univer­sity, but the peo­ple of Bal­ti­more as well. It’s in­de­scrib­able how much it means to me. I’m just happy for some of the guys who may never get this chance again.”

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