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.
Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley has totaled 62 points and 38 rebounds in his first collegiate games.
It's difficult to ascertain when, exactly, the college hoops season begins. Sports Illustrated's preview issue -- what I've been working on lately rather than blogging -- comes out tomorrow. The first real "tournament" of the winter, the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic, takes place on Thursday and Friday at Madison Square Garden. Some teams have already played two regular-season games. Others have yet to play one. Basically: we're right in the middle of the beginning. And already, there has been no shortage of surprises: 1. The Zestier Mayonnaise
University of Illinois-Chicago's Josh Mayo was a huge prospect coming out of Merrillville, Ind., in the Class of 2005. So huge that he was assigned two stars in a photo-less, news-less profile in Scout.com's recruiting database. So huge that he wasn't even in Rivals.com's recruiting database. USC's O.J. Mayo, meanwhile, was a slightly huger prospect coming out of Huntington, W.V.: five stars in every recruiting service, and the No. 1 overall prospect in Scout.com's rankings. O.J. also was on the cover of SLAM last month standing in front of a Bentley. They are neither brothers nor cousins, nor did they, coming into this season, appear to be operating in the same basketball universe.
Until they went and actually played the games, that is. When the first weekend of the 2007-08 season was said and done, Josh Mayo > O.J. Mayo. The pride of Merrillville -- now a junior at UIC -- dropped 34 points on 11-of-17 shooting in an upset of Bradley on Saturday. The Fresh(man) Prince of L.A. had 32 against Mercer -- but he needed 27 shots to get there, also committed eight turnovers, and his Trojans lost by 15. To Mercer! Prediction: When Mayo is still taking 20-plus shots a game in three or four years -- for a bad NBA team -- he will not care about this. And Josh Mayo will still have yet to appear in a national publication, standing in front of a Bentley.
2. The Yellow Tie ... and that other thing
Oh, does Billy Gillispie long for the days -- just a week ago, really -- when his yellow tie was the only thing Kentucky fans were worried about. (Seriously, there was enough buzz over Billy Clyde's sartorial decision in UK's first exhibition game that Lexington columnist John Clay was justified in discussing it in his new YouTube series. He paraphrased the reactions of a few fans as, "Why was Billy Gillispie wearing a yellow tie? Doesn't he know he's in Kentucky? He's supposed to wear blue.")
Now the 'Cats, who were to be one of the main attractions in this weekend's 2K Sports College Hoops Classic at Madison Square Garden, are stuck at home, game-less, for two weeks after a rather stunning collapse: an 84-68 loss, on Wednesday, to a Gardner-Webb team that won nine games the previous year, and drew fewer people to all of its conference home games combined than UK did to its Big Blue Madness. (Thanks to mid-major guru Bill Trocchi for that absurd stat.)
3. B-Easy There, Young Fella
First came the rumors, that Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley (nickname: B-Easy) had scored 42 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a closed scrimmage against Marquette. Then came non-nationally televised confirmation of his dominance: Through the Wildcats' first two games, he's averaged 31 points and 19 rebounds. The opponents were Sacramento State and Pittsburg State, but do you see anyone else putting up those kinds of numbers? I ranked instant-impact freshmen in a gallery a few weeks ago and put Beasley fourth, behind UCLA's Kevin Love, Memphis' Derrick Rose and USC's Mayo. In hindsight, I'd revise the order of my top five to Beasley, Rose, Love, Indiana's Eric Gordon and O.J. Mayo. Rose will get the most wins of any of them ... but Beasley, as crazy as it sounds, could actually surpass Kevin Durant's freshman numbers of 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.
4. The D2 Invasion
Grand Valley State, the Division II team that sunk No. 8 Michigan State in the Spartans' first exhibition game of the season, appeared in this blog-space last Monday. When I asked the Lakers' L.J. Kilgore if he'd played in any environments as tough as the Breslin Center, he mentioned that the University of Findlay's Croy Gymnasium is rather intense, because "it gets so loud in there that it seems like a million people are against you." This was rather amusing, since Croy is more than 12,000 seats smaller than Breslin. I also figured it would be the last I heard about either Grand Valley State or Findlay all season. Four days later, Findlay upsets Ohio State in Columbus, 70-68. And much like the stunning Josh Mayo > O.J. Mayo development, we also have this: the Division II Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference > the big, bad Big Ten.