Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
1/29/2008 09:01:00 AM
Q&A with ... Kansas State's Bill Walker
Kansas State's Bill Walker grabbed 10 points and nine rebounds in last Saturday's win over Iowa State.
Scott Sewell/Icon SMI
For the latest Q&A, I chatted with Kansas State's Bill Walker, who has helped guide the Wildcats to a surprising 4-0 start in the Big 12. The redshirt freshman swingman, who starred at Cincinnati's North College Hill High School alongside O.J. Mayo, then followed Bob Huggins to K-State, opted to remain in Manhattan when Huggs bolted for West Virginia. Walker is now averaging 15.8 points and 6.6 rebounds on the season. The following is an edited version of a phone conversation with him from last week:
Luke Winn: Some of your teammates been been referring to the Big 12 season as a "heavyweight fight" with 12 rounds left, and I heard that was your idea. Why the boxing metaphor?
Bill Walker: Because it is a heavyweight fight. It's not called the Big 12 for nothing -- it's a physical brand of basketball. And I like boxing. I'm a big Floyd Mayweather fan; I just caught that Ricky Hatton fight from last month. [Mayweather] has a swagger. He's confident about himself no matter who he's going up against.
LW: Who would win a K-State team boxing tourney? And how would [Michael] Beasley do?
BW: I'm not sure -- and I don't think I want to find out, either. Beasley is a lefty, so he's probably pretty awkward. We're both powerful guys, but he's bigger, so I'd have to out-quick him.
LW: You've been averaging 17.3 points per game in the Big 12, and you're getting back on NBA scouts' radar after being sort of written off following your ACL tear [as a true freshman]. People are saying that the 'old Bill Walker' is back; was he hiding just because of the injury?
BW: It was more me just adjusting to college basketball. People forget that I only played six games last year, so this year is just like it would be for a true freshman. I'm maximizing my shot attempts now, not taking bad shots. I'm getting more comfortable about learning from scouting reports and knowing weaknesses in defenses.
LW: You're making a lot of threes now, too [he's connected on 8-of-15 in Big 12 games]. That didn't used to be your forte when you were called "Sky" Walker. Where did this newfound accuracy come from?
BW: I like challenges. I like when people say I can't do something. That was what pushed me to go out there and do it, and to put a lot of work into my shot.
The rap sheet on me was always 'He can't shoot -- if he doesn't dunk it, he's not going to score.' Which is totally not the case. I can score from anywhere on the floor. I just hadn't had a chance to show it.
LW: People that saw your team in November and early December [when it lost to George Mason, Oregon and Notre Dame] probably wouldn't have given you much of a shot to beat Kansas on Wednesday. That may no longer be the case. How serious of a threat do you think the Jayhawks consider your team?
BW: We have seven freshmen, so there was going to be an adjustment period. When guys finally got acclimated to this type of competition, everything came together. I don't think Kansas is looking past this game. You can't -- that's how you get beat in college basketball. I know what they're trying to accomplish. They're trying to go undefeated, and they're off to a great start.
LW: Mike Beasley's mom, Fatima Smith, has been blogging for the Wichita Eagle. Have you ever read her blog?
BW: I haven't seen it. I don't read too much media stuff. She's always around our room [he lives with Beasley] policing us anyways, making sure we're eating the right things, making sure we're there when we're supposed to be there, stuff like that.
LW: She has a key to the dorm?
BW: They'll let her in. She's come over plenty of times.
LW: What's the best thing in the Walker-Beasley pad?
BW: I gave Mike 84 [points] with O.J. one game. I think Mike had like 60-something as himself, but he claimed his controller was broken.
LW: How much do you and O.J. keep in touch? You were linked together for so long in high school ...
BW: I keep in touch with O.J. a lot. I called him a few days before he played UCLA. We don't talk about basketball all that much now, though; we already hear that all day. It's just stuff about life in general, making sure we're doing the things we need to do to stay on the path we always talked about.
LW: Former shoe kingpin Sonny Vaccaro, a friend of yours and O.J.'s, has called you a 'victim' of the NBA's age-minimum rule, in that you could've entered the draft -- and been a lottery pick -- rather than going to K-State and tearing your ACL last season. Do you agree with that characterization?
BW: I just look at it as, [the NBA] took away the choice that you have, forcing you to go to college, when sometimes college isn't for everybody. I think about the fact that I can go enlist in the Army and die at the age of 18, but I can't play in the NBA. That means that they take basketball more seriously than a person's life.
LW: It was speculated at one point that you and O.J. would actually try to find a way around the rule -- by either going to Europe or some other pro league for a season, then entering the NBA draft. Did you two ever seriously consider that, or even have discussions about it with Sonny?
BW: Naw. Once they put the rule in, I decided it wasn't worth going overseas. I wasn't that desperate. I figured I'd go to college and play. If you're really as good as you think you are, then you should figure you can make the jump out of college, right?
LW: I'm not sure if you go on YouTube at all, but amongst all the videos of you dunking there are two pretty classic ones. The first is from late in an overtime loss to Oregon [from Nov. 29], where it's tied 71-71 near the end of regulation, and you run to the bench during a stoppage, put towels in your shorts, and well ... take care of some pressing business so you can comfortably continue the game.
BW: It was either that or leave the court. And I was trying to win that game, so I did what had to be done.
LW: That's dedication. The other video is from last year's NIT--
BW: The popcorn thing.
LW: Yeah. Where you're redshirting, and on the bench eating popcorn at the start of the DePaul game. It's one of the better sideline clips I've ever seen.
BW: I didn't think people were going to make such a big deal about it. I still eat popcorn before all the games now. I love popcorn -- and not out of the microwave, either. I like the taste of it when it's popped out of the machine, so I either go and get some, or have somebody get some for me, before every game.
LW: Three of the better freshmen in the college game right now -- Kentucky's Patrick Patterson, O.J., and yourself -- all grew up in Huntington, W.V., which isn't usually thought of as a hoops hotbed. Is there anything about the culture of the city that shaped your games?
BW: We're a different caliber of people, from Huntington -- just blue-collar people who go to work. Patrick displays that when he plays for Kentucky. You can tell he plays hard and goes to work, and same with O.J. It's how we were brought up. It's not like there are a lot of jobs or opportunities for people [in Huntington], so if you do have something, you have to work your tail off to keep it.
LW: You write "1023" on the backs of your Nikes, which is an ode to Huntington, right?
BW: 1023 Minton was my street address when I lived in Huntington. The house was in real bad shape when my family first moved in. We had to clean it up to make it a home. So I can be going through the worst slump ever, and I can look down at the 1023 on my shoes, and know it can't get any worse than when we first got there.
LW: Last one. What about your jersey number, 12? Is it another play off of that address, or something else?
BW: I just wear 12 because it's the first two numbers -- the most important numbers. The first two steps to any play are the most important. You've always gotta have your 1-2 right.
Readers are encouraged to make nominations in the comments or by sending an e-mail to email@example.com, and will get credit for successful suggestions. Pictures are welcome.
Without further ado, the Archive (latest update Jan. 21; full Archive can be found here):
Natty Nebraska Steve Harley, 5-11 guard, Jr., Nebraska Classification: Massive Dreadlocks Spotted: Jan. 12 vs. Kansas Notes: Harley, a juco All-America last season at South Plains College, brought some flavor with him to Lincoln. His overwhelming hirsuteness makes up for the fact that the Huskers' best player, center Aleks Maric, has no hair.
Thick-Hawk Omar Samhan, 6-11 center, Soph., St. Mary's Classification: Mohawk Variation Spotted: Jan. 5 at Texas Notes: The raggedy haircut Sahman sports in his St. Mary's bio makes him look like a metal-band roadie. This ultra-thick mohawk is more appropriate for the court, where he's been averaging 11.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
All-Blacks N.C. State Wolfpack Classification: Team-wide black socks Spotted: Jan. 12 at North Carolina Notes: With an 0-2 record in the ACC, the Wolfpack aren't exactly reviving the Fab Five in terms of quality basketball -- but they are delivering an ode to the old Michigan teams by wearing all-black socks with their black kicks.
Mr. Untucked DeAndre Jordan, 7-0 center, Fr., Texas A&M Classification: Dense beard Spotted: Jan. 12 vs. Colorado Notes: Jordan has the nation's best field-goal percentage at 75.3, but there are two things he doesn't do well: shoot free throws (he hits only 36.1 percent) and keep his jersey tucked in. It's always out ... and it looks awful.
Shoulder U Miami Hurricanes Classification: Additional jersey logo Spotted: Jan. 12 vs. Georgia Tech Notes: The iconic "U" logo isn't just for football helmets. During their 14-1 run to start this season, the 'Canes have worn it on the left shoulder of their Nike jerseys, opposite the requisite U.S. flag on the right shoulder.
After the game, Bob Knight told the Texas Tech fans, "You folks being here, seats being full for a change, really made a difference tonight."
There was no real expectation for Bob Knight to wax poetic about becoming the first coach in Division I history to win 900 games. Last week, before losing to Oklahoma State in his first shot at the milestone, Knight had said, "Who cares about 900?" Earlier this month, he publicly dissedEddie Sutton's questionable quest for 800 wins at San Francisco. And so, in a news conference after Wednesday night's upset of No. 9 Texas A&M in Lubbock, when Knight was asked for a few words about reaching the mark, he offered this terse line:
"I'm goddamn glad it's over."
Just Bobby being Bobby, acerbic as ever. Hubbub over such round numbers, Knight has always said, is a result of the media being the media, over-milking milestones to sell papers. But how much should we really care about 900? It was a quality, 15-point win over a solid Aggies team, but there has been nothing truly inspirational about the way Knight has plodded toward 900 in West Texas, producing marginal NCAA tournament or NIT teams mostly outside of the national spotlight.
Knight hasn't been to the Final Four since he took Indiana there 16 years ago, in 1992, and there's little-to-no chance he'll be back there before he retires and passes the reins of the Red Raiders to his son, Pat. The idea of former pupil Mike Krzyzewski breaking the 900 mark at Duke -- and potentially passing Knight, should Coach K stay five or six more seasons in Durham -- is more impressive, in that it would be a success story without all the arrogance-fueled embarrassment mixed in. But there's a good chance, given that Krzyzewski may not want to coach until 2014 or '15, that the General will remain the winningest coach of all time. What he accomplished in the mid '70s to late '80s, when he was king of all coaches, is deserving of our admiration. But in the eyes of younger hoopheads, Knight has devolved into something of a cantankerous sideshow.
Before winning 900, Knight essentially made national headlines three times this season: The first was for upsetting No. 14 Gonzaga in the Great Alaska Shootout on Nov. 24. The second was on Nov. 29, when a Lubbock man accused Knight of firing shotgun pellets over his pool -- and then videotaped a confrontation with the General, in which the accuser seemed deranged while Knight was petulant and unapologetic. The third was on Jan. 5, for bringing his 21-month-old grandson up to the news conference podium after win No. 899, giving instruction in ducking the media's questions, and then saying "bulls---" while the kid was on his lap.
In the process of collecting that 899th win, which came against UTEP, Knight at one point lost his right shoe ... because he kicked the scorer's table in reaction to a charging call against the Red Raiders. Less than a minute later in the game, he picked up a technical foul for arguing a different call.
ESPN's Holly Rowe interviewed Knight on the floor after the 900th win, and just a few moments after a 46-word speech he gave to the fans, which included a backhanded compliment about "the seats being full for a change." Rowe threw him this polite softball for her final inquiry:
"Coach, I know you take great pride in being a teacher. What we saw you go over the game plan yesterday, that's what they did tonight. How gratifying is it that you really taught them and they executed it for you?"
Even in what should have been one of his finest hours, Knight the teacher could not shout down Knight the dark humorist/dictator, who chose instead to make a thinly veiled reference to the hide-chewing his players had averted.
"It's not gratifying," Knight said, "as much as it is just a damn good thing for them that they [executed]."
Everyone on ESPN's announcing crew laughed. It was funny -- in a sad way.
Readers are encouraged to make nominations in the comments or by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, and will get credit for successful suggestions. Pictures are welcome.
Without further ado, the Archive (latest update Jan. 15; full Archive can be found here):
Blaze Orange Oliver Purnell, coach, Clemson Classification: School-colored coaching jacket Spotted: Jan. 6 vs. North Carolina Notes: Was this rented -- sans tophat -- off the set of Dumb and Dumber? A game between the Tigers and Tennessee, with Purnell and Bruce Pearl both in their orange blazers, would set coaching fashion back 20 years.
Sideline Sit-in Kevin Stallings, coach, Vanderbilt Classification: Defeated posture Spotted: Jan. 12 at Kentucky Notes: Under the NCAA's new rules of decorum, leaving the coaching box warrants a technical ... but sitting down within it does not. This was Stallings' reaction to the 'Dores' first loss, in double-overtime at Rupp Arena.
Buckled Down Mike Deane, coach, Wagner Classification: Actual bench seatbelt Spotted: All Wagner games Notes: Credit goes to SI.com's Kevin Armstrong for first telling the story of Deane's strapped-in protest in a Jan. 7 column. Deane might be onto something here, considering his history of stellar conduct on the sideline.
The Baron Kenny Williams, 6-8 forward, Sr., Ole Miss Classification: Dense beard Spotted: Jan. 9 at Tennessee Notes: Williams is part of the Rebs' physical front line, and his roughage suggests he's trying to be the Baron Davis of the SEC. But at 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, Williams is unlikely to be mistaken for B.D. anytime soon.
Barbershop Art Chris Howard, 6-3 guard, Soph., South Florida Classification: Shaved-In Designs Spotted: Every Bulls home game Notes: Howard hits up his barber -- a dude named "Elvis" at Miracles in Motion in Tampa -- before each home game for a fresh design. South Florida even saw fit to post a Cuttin' it with Chris video on its official Web site.
U, Us, Muss Utah Runnin' Utes Classification: Ode-to-tradition Shorts Spotted: Dec. 31 vs. Gonzaga Notes: A fine way to honor one's student section. The "Muss" in U, Us, Muss stands for Mighty Utah Student Section. Muss also appears in the Utes' fight song: No other gang of college men dare meet us in a muss.
D.J. White (left) scored 16 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the Hoosiers' win at Iowa on Jan. 2.
For the latest Q&A, I chatted with D.J. White, the senior leader of the No. 11-ranked Indiana Hoosiers. White, a 6-foot-9 forward, has posted double-doubles in nine of IU's past 10 games. He's averaging 16.4 points and a team-high 10.1 rebounds, providing the interior balance to freshman Eric Gordon's electric game on the perimeter. The following is an edited version of phone conversations with White from Friday and Saturday:
Luke Winn: I'm looking at your season box score, and the strange thing is that you only grabbed four, three and three rebounds in your first three games, against Chattanooga, Longwood and UNC-Wilmington ... and then you went on this long run of double-doubles, against teams like Xavier, Southern Illinois and Kentucky. Can you explain what happened?
D.J. White: It was because I started being more aggressive going after everything on the glass. I know I have to rebound for this team to be successful. Also, at the beginning of the year, I was playing more on the perimeter; that wasn't the whole problem, but part of it. I switched back to playing not necessarily a true center position, but one where I'm under the goal a lot more. That's helped get better on the glass.
LW: There's a 2006 quote from Kelvin Sampson -- an interesting analogy -- that goes, "If you walk into a lot of African-American homes in the South, they always have a loaf of bread on the table, and salt and pepper shakers, and a bottle of hot sauce. I can't tell you how many houses I've been to like that; that's their basics. I don't treat [the players] all the same. I treat 'em fair. I may get on D.J. White harder than I do Joey Shaw. But I'm going to treat them both fair. But D.J. is our bread."
What's your take on this? What makes you the bread?
DJW: I guess he was basically saying that I'm the core of the team, a guy who a lot of people look up to. Something [Sampson] talks about all the time is that, for us to play late into March, I need to do a lot more things than just score: Block shots, rebound, defend.
LW: Does that table setup he referenced actually match the one at your family's home in Tuscaloosa?
DJW: We have the salt-and-pepper shakers, but not the bread on the table.
LW: And the sauce?
DJW: It's in the cabinet.
LW: Who would be the hot sauce of the Hoosiers, then? Is that [Eric] Gordon?
DJW: It's probably him. A lot of people that I know, they use hot sauce with everything. And we need him for everything that we do. So that's how I'm adding to the analogy.
LW: You and Eric are the two stars on this team, but you're 21, and in your fourth season, while he just turned 19, and is in his first. What's your relationship with him like?
DJW: We have a great relationship. He's a very quiet guy in public, but he talks a lot around the team. Me and him are getting closer and closer every day; we talk all the time now. And he doesn't have a car on campus, so if he needs a ride, I always give him one.
LW: Gordon looks like such a veteran scorer when he's on the floor. Does he at least have some freshman habits off of it, that make him seem like a kid? Or is there anything the older guys harass him about?
DJW: Well ... We both take naps in the same room [at Assembly Hall] before games. And he snores in there a lot. It's loud and it gets very annoying; I joke with him about it, but there's nothing you can do to make it stop. You nudge him and he might lighten up for a few seconds, but after that he's back to snoring.
He also can eat a lot. The way his body is like -- with no fat -- you wouldn't know it, but he'll eat like three hamburgers at a time. He has a huge appetite. He can easily out-eat me.
LW: I didn't catch the Tennessee State game [on Dec. 3], but you were credited with taking -- and missing -- a three-pointer in the box score. You had never taken a three before in your Indiana career. What were the circumstances?
DJW: The shot clock was running down, so I had to take it; I don't think [Sampson] minded. It felt good though. I should have made it.
LW: Will you take another one, or will it just be 0-for-1 on the career?
DJW: Hopefully I can get one more. My goal is to get to 50 percent.
LW: Your t-shirt-wearing habits have been of interest of Indiana fans. You used to have some kind of system to decide when you wore one under your jersey, right? Now it seems that there's a t-shirt brigade on the team -- Gordon, Jordan Crawford and Jamarcus Ellis -- and you're never wearing one.
DJW: That started back in high school for me. I'm very superstitious, and back then I'd wear a white t-shirt under my jersey for every home game. I kept doing that for every year up until this one. But this season, a bunch of my teammates were all used to playing with t-shirts, too, and they kind of took my style, so I had to do something else. I figured I'd changed it up for my last year, and go with no sleeves. It's been working out, so I guess I'll keep it that way.
LW: Do you keep up any other superstitions?
DJW: Not many others. I usually do the same routine before games, though. I put on my jersey, go in the training room and get taped, listen to my ipod -- different songs, but a lot of Kanye West -- and then walk on the court. And I usually read the same bible verse before every game.
LW: What's the verse? And do you have it printed out, or posted somewhere?
DJW:Psalms 121. I keep a small bible in my locker and read from it.
LW: What players do you keep in touch with the most from your Pan Am Games trip to Brazil this summer? [White was the U.S.' leading scorer in international competition.]
DJW: [Memphis'] Joey Dorsey the most. We text each other all the time. Eric Maynor from VCU, and [Georgetown's] Roy Hibbert, too, but mostly Joey.
LW: Joey wears No. 3 because he wants to emulate Ben Wallace. What's your reason for wearing it?
DJW: Truthfully, I don't have a reason. I just don't like those high numbers, I guess. I wore 54 in high school because that was the number on the jersey size that me. I just like having a lower number now.
LW: What's your best Joey Dorsey story from Brazil?
DJW: Probably something I couldn't tell you. We stayed up at night playing a lot of cards and watching TV, and he was always joking around. I had a good time with him. Now we just text if we see a good box score from the other guy, and say good game. I might have sent him one when I saw that their coach [John Calipari] put them on curfew early in the season, though, too.
LW: You came to Indiana in a recruiting class with James Hardy, who went on to become a star wide receiver for the Hoosiers instead of a basketball player [and declared for the NFL Draft on Friday]. Could he help this IU team if he came back to hoops? I know he played some minutes as a freshman.
DJW: It would probably take him a while to get back into basketball shape. He's very talented. If he did -- and I highly doubt he would ever do it -- I think he'd be fine.
DJW: It's probably that. I dribble toward the middle, turn around over my left shoulder, or over my right shoulder, either way, and shoot.
LW: And do you call it by that same name?
DJW: No. It's just a turnaround jumper; I don't have a good name for it. I'll let you make one up if you want.
LW: You've been sporting the beard for a few seasons. Any particular reason for growing it out in the first place?
DJW: Nothing other than trying to look older. Some people tell me I look like a little kid without my facial hair. When I heard that it made me want to keep it. My mother is the one who doesn't like it, though. She told me I need to cut it off, but I'd rather not.
LW: Who's the world's best bearded basketball player right now?
DJW: It's probably [the Golden State Warriors'] Baron Davis. I like his, but it's way too thick for me. No way I could wear mine like that.
LW: What's the worst heckling you've ever received from opposing fans?
DJW: I remember people calling me by my full name -- Dewayne White Junior -- a few times. Or people just calling me Junior. That's the most I've been heckled, but I don't even react to it.
LW: What's the toughest road venue in the Big Ten?
DJW: Probably the Breslin Center at Michigan State. Mostly because of the energy of the crowds, and how much they get into the game.
LW: Who should be considered the favorite to win the Big Ten right now? Indiana, Michigan State, or Wisconsin?
DJW: It's tough to say, since it's still early, and we've got a lot of good teams. Michigan State looks good. I think we deserve to be at the top, too, but I'm not going to pick one over the other. Ohio State needs to be in there as well, so it's those four at the top.
LW: Last question. If you had to build your ultimate team of college players, but couldn't pick any other Hoosiers, who would you put at the four spots around you on the floor?
DJW: That's a good one. I'd start with Derrick Rose on the ball; I just like his speed as a point guard. He's very versatile, and he's doing a good job leading Memphis. I respect his game, as well as Eric Maynor's from VCU; he doesn't get a lot of pub nationally, but I liked playing with him in the Pan Am Games. In the paint I'd like to play along with my man Joey Dorsey; I'd put him at the five, and if not him there, I'd have [Alabama's] Richard Hendrix.
At shooting guard, I'd put out [Washington State's] Kyle Weaver; I played with him this summer, too, and he does everything. He's a great all-around player. And at the three, I'd have [formerly IU's, now UAB's] Robert Vaden. I'd love to hook back up with him. We still talk often; we were old roommates and he was probably my best friend at Indiana.