Jimmy Walker, RIP

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Jimmy Walker, RIP

Postby rlee » Tue Jul 03, 2007 2:02 pm

Providence Journal

Jimmy Walker, the greatest player in Providence College’s long basketball history, died of lung cancer yesterday in Kansas City, Mo. He was 63.

A native of the Roxbury section of Boston, Walker captivated PC fans during his career from 1964-67 with a litany of spell-binding moves that basketball observers swear they had never seen before. “The Walk” was an instant star who, as a sophomore, led the Friars to a top-5 national ranking and a 24-2 record before a loss to Bill Bradley and Princeton in The NCAA Tournament ended PC’s dreams of a Final Four.

That run was the pinnacle of Walker’s PC career, record-wise, but his junior and senior years were the stuff of legend. He used his 6-foot-4, 230-pound body to physically overpower opposing guards, and his outstanding quickness and ball-handling skills to mystify fans around the country. In Walker’s senior year, he led the country in scoring (30.4 points a game) and was regarded as the nation’s premier player.

In three seasons, Walker scored 2,045 points. Despite playing only three seasons, he held the school’s all-time scoring record for 38 years until it was broken in 2005 by current Boston Celtic Ryan Gomes.

“He was an amazing phenomenon,” said Jim Cox, a Providence native who played with Walker in 1964. “That he ended up at Providence College was a remarkable development. He was so good, so blessed. He was ahead of his time.”

How Walker arrived at PC is an infamous story. The coach at the time was Joe Mullaney, the father of Friar basketball. His assistant was Dave Gavitt, now a Basketball Hall of Famer. Mullaney had recruited a youngster from Boston named Bill Blair in 1963. When Blair was dropped off at school by his mother, she turned to Mullaney and asked him “Do you know Jamie Walker? He’s my nephew. We think he’s the best player in Boston.”

Mullaney had never heard of Walker but quickly found out that he was a talented player who was away at prep school in Laurinburg, N.C. Sam Jones, the great Celtics guard, had discovered Walker’s talent and steered him to the school.

“That winter, we found out he was home and was going to come down and play a game in Providence with a bunch of guys from Boston,” Mullaney said in an interview a year before he died. “I said to Dave, “I don’t want to go over. I’d draw a little attention to myself.’ So Dave and Vin [Cuddy, PC’s athletic director] went to see the game at Hope High.”

Mullaney said he waited by the telephone for Gavitt’s scouting report.

“When they come back they were a little smug. They had a drink and I asked, ‘What do you think?’ ”

“What do you want to know?” said Gavitt.

“Can the kid play?” said Mullaney.

“Yes, he can play,” said Gavitt. “What else do you want to know?”

“Can he handle the ball?” asked Mullaney.

“Like it’s on a string,” said Gavitt.

“Is he put together?” said Mullaney.

“Put together? Like a linebacker,” Gavitt said.

“Can he shoot it?” said Mullaney.

“He can shoot it,” said Gavitt.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Mullaney said. “Everything I asked, they answered with a superlative. Dave just said, ‘We’re all set for a few years if we get this kid.’ ”

Walker enrolled and, with Gavitt as his coach, led the freshman team to an undefeated season.

“I saw him the first time in a freshman practice,” Mullaney said, “and I’ll never forget the first time we saw him go behind his back. He’s dribbling up the right hand side and some guy comes up on him and he goes right by him behind his back. He could stop on a dime. Then he goes between his legs, boom, boom. I said to Dave, ‘Did you see what I just saw?’ Dave says: ‘Yeah. He just put it between his legs.’ I said: ‘I’ve never seen anyone do that before.’ ”

Walker was the first pick of the 1967 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons. He played nine seasons in the pros and averaged 16.7 points for his career.

He dropped out of sight after his playing days and he had little contact with friends he made at PC. That dry spell ended in more recent times. He returned to Rhode Island in 2003 and struck up a friendship with Ernie DiGregorio, another Friar legend. The two wrote a book together and appeared at a PC golf tournament, pulling up to Warwick Country Club in a limousine.

Asked that day about his time at PC, Walker said, “I had such good times and good friends here,” he said. “Mike Riordan and myself, we were buddies. Jimmy Benedict, Dexter Westbrook. We had great teams. I didn’t have time to walk around with my chest all swollen up talking about how good I am. That wasn’t me. Basketball was just a part of how good it was to be a part of Providence. I loved the community people because they treated me real, real well.”

Walker’s national profile grew again in the 1990s when it was revealed that he was the father of Jalen Rose, a star college player at Michigan and part of the Fab Five. Walker and Rose, however, didn’t have much of a relationship. Walker lived in Atlanta for a time, but spent the last decade or so of his life living in Kansas City.

On that day in Warwick, Walker was asked what he felt his legacy at Providence should be. He shrugged and dismissed his skills. Others at the table, including DiGregorio and Benedict, laughed and insisted “The Walk” was the best there ever was.

“I just worked hard and I saw the great Celtics teams with their great work ethic and that helped me so much,” he said. “Providence was a special time in my life, a great time. … Maybe that’s why I can still appreciate it.”
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Postby cagewriter » Tue Jul 03, 2007 7:17 pm

I'm shocked, I had no idea. He's a legend from Providence, to my hometown of Boston.


Bill Reynolds on Walk

Postby cagewriter » Tue Jul 03, 2007 7:27 pm

Bill Reynolds: Jimmy Walker was the best I've ever seen

12:33 PM EDT on Tuesday, July 3, 2007

By Bill Reynolds
Journal Sports Columnist

(First published Feb. 24, 2005)
The first time I saw Jimmy Walker was in November of 1964.

He was a sophomore at Providence College then, about to play on the varsity for the first time, and a friend said I had to see him play because "you've never seen anyone like him before." But I was 19 and thought I had seen everything, so what did he mean I had never seen anything like Walker before?

But one night over Thanksgiving vacation I was peering through the doors of Alumni Hall when Walker was fooling around with a couple of guys at a side basket. All of a sudden, as another player rushed out to guard him, Walker dribbled through his legs and eluded him.

Through his legs? No one dribbled through their legs back then. But Walker did, and in a sense, that one move became a metaphor for Walker's PC career .

He always was showing you something you had never seen before, as though he were a sneak preview of the game's future. He was one of the first big guards in the college game then -- big and strong, the ball on a string, someone who played in a unique way, a combination of strength and skill.

He was so gifted then that there were guys who actually fell down trying to guard him. A spin here, a spin there, and Walker would be going in one direction while his defender was lost in space, like trying to cover a ghost.

And making it all the better was the fact Walker had seemed to spring out of anonymity, a Boston kid who somehow had found his way to Laurinburg Academy, a black prep school in North Carolina.

It was a different time, of course, nowhere near the in-depth recruiting that now exists, this era where kids are so lionized before they arrive in college basketball, it's often a letdown when you actually see them play.

Still, even in the early '60s, Walker was a basketball godsend, someone who simply seemed to show up on the PC campus in the fall of 1963, changing everything.

As a junior he scored 50 points in Madision Square Garden, and when he was done, sitting on the bench with a couple of minutes left in the game, kids lined up behind him. Without turning around, Walker put his right hand back, palm up, as kid after kid slapped him five. The very definition of cool?

That was Jimmy Walker in those three years at PC.

Even now, so many years later, he's the best PC player I ever saw. That's no small statement, given the number of great players that have come through here. But from the time he arrived, Walker was like a man against boys, so advanced that even by his sophomore year everyone knew he would oneday be in the NBA. He led the country in scoring as a senior, averaging 30 points a game, and was the number one pick in the 1967 draft.

Even more than that, though, was his presence. He was so unstoppable then that when the Friars were played man-to-man, then-coach Joe Mullaney just gave Walker the ball at the top of the key and had the other four players underneath the basket. Walker was so gifted he essentially could get his shot any time he wanted to.

He went on to play nine seasons in the NBA, a good pro certainly, but never reaching the heights his college career promised. When he retired, he seemed to fall off the radar screen, almost as though he and Providence College were like old lovers who had drifted apart. In the early '90s he surfaced natonally when it became public he was the father of Jalen Rose, but until the summer of 2001 he had never been back to PC, had all but become a mythic figure, a picture in a media guide, existing only in memory.

When he did come back, he said it meant so much to him he couldn't even put it into words.

"I got goose bumps when I walked in," he said of his first entrance into Alumni Hall, the little campus gym that once had been his own field of dreams, back when the students used to sit behind the basket and chant "Walk . . . Walk . . . Walk," as though they knew they were seeing something special.

Now it's 38 years after he left PC, and Walker was eclipsed last night as the school's all-time scoring leader by Ryan Gomes. No matter that Gomes has played four years to Walker's three, played appreciably more games. No matter that Gomes also played with the 3-point shot, something that didn't exist when Walker played. Records are made to be broken. Time moves on. The past eventually gives way to the present, even in basketball, and there's no doubt Gomes has had one of the great careers in PC history.

But anyone who ever saw Jimmy Walker play for the Friars will never forget it.

A player can leave no better epitaph.



Walker Wikki

Postby cagewriter » Tue Jul 03, 2007 11:35 pm


Jimmy Walker

Postby rlee » Wed Jul 18, 2007 3:52 am

by Jeff Jacobs

During a five-day span a few weeks ago, Ray Allen was acquired by the Celtics and Jimmy Walker died of lung cancer at age 63. While the experts already have had their word on how one of the game's great shooters will impact New England basketball, we hope it's not too late to offer ours on how two of the game's great shooters impacted one New England basketball fan.

Jimmy Walker made me love the game.

On a January night three decades later, after the snow plows finally were able to clear the road to Storrs, Ray Allen rekindled my love for the game.

In a time when talk show hosts and Internet cowboys brag shamelessly about being fans, it probably seems anachronistic to admit I have been an obnoxious, over-the-top fanatic of only one team. From 1963 to 1977, Providence College basketball was the passion of my young life. That was before journalism intervened. That was before the detached lady of impartiality became my mistress.

Yet buried somewhere in an attic trunk, I've got an autograph of a skinny Friars center named John Thompson. SKINNY John Thompson, that's how long ago it was. Every win, every loss in those days, as described in Chris Clark's broadcast, was my life and death. Clark's son played on my Little League team, and if his dad came it was better than if the pope or Yaz showed up. Years later, when I was home from college on semester break, I had my wisdom teeth pulled, was pumped with painkillers and still got to the Friars' double-overtime upset of No.1 Michigan.

To this day Jim Larranaga is more to me than the coach of the George Mason team that ruined UConn's dream of a third national title. To this day, I can't remember how to spell the last name of the little magician from North Providence. He is Ernie D. Always was. Always will be.

Yet even Ernie D. isn't Jimmy Walker. Neither is Thompson or Barnes. Neither are Lenny Wilkens, Johnny Egan or Ryan Gomes.

Walker was the best player in Providence history. He was the best college player in New England history. No less than Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe called Walker the greatest player ever to come out of Boston and, yes, that included Patrick Ewing.

Walker could spin with the ball like a runaway top. He would dribble between his legs as naturally as taking a breath. All the time, the ball was his yo-yo. This was magical, innovative stuff in the '60s.

"Guys go through their legs [for show], but it was Jimmy's crossover," UConn coach Jim Calhoun once said. "You couldn't get through his knees to get the ball."

And, out of nowhere, he would rock and shoot from 22 feet. For years, I kept a scorebook of PC games and 40 years later I still color in the O for made free throws instead of an X inside it. I colored them as a way to kill time, awaiting greatness until Walker scored another basket. I idolized him.

He wasn't lithe, far from it. He was football wide. At 6 feet 3, he was football powerful. As a sophomore, he took PC to the final eight. As a senior, he led the nation in scoring. That was before the three-point line. His 30.4 points a game would be worth 35 nowadays. He would walk into old Alumni Hall and the students would start chanting, "Walk! Walk!" It was magical. Eight times he scored at least 40 points. The Pistons made him the No.1 pick in 1967, the only New England college player to go first in the NBA draft.

Man, he was great.

And one night at Madison Square Garden he became legend.

He lit BC up for 50 in the 1965 Holiday Festival. Nothing BC coach Bob Cousy tried worked. Everything Walker threw up went in. Providence Journal columnist Bill Reynolds, who played at Brown and once found himself trying to guard Walker, wrote how a string of kids lined up behind Walker near the end of that game in New York. The kids took turns slapping five with him. Sitting on the bench, Walker just held out his palm. He didn't need to turn around.

Everyone knows gods have eyes in the back of their heads.

I would meet Walker only once. It was Jan. 16, 2002. After years of disconnect, he had found his way back into the Friars' fold. He was in Providence for a game against UConn. I told him how I cried one night when I was 11 as I listened on the radio as, I think it was Niagara, threw a box-and-one on him and beat the Friars. It was the only time I ever cried over a final score.

"Just think of all the teams that tried the box-and-one on me that didn't work," he said.

Then Jimmy Walker winked at me.

I was 11 again.

From the time he showed up via Laurinburg, N.C., Institute until the day it was revealed he was Jalen Rose's father, there was always a hint of mystery surrounding him. Walker was going to be the next Oscar Robertson. He had the size. He had the talent. He made a couple of All-Star Games. He averaged nearly 17 points in a nine-year NBA career. He was no bust. He was no Big O, either.

They say he didn't take care of himself like he should have. Who knows?

What I do know is Jimmy Walker made me love college basketball. That was before I began covering hockey for nearly 20 years. You live one sport in the winter. It's impossible to live both. Oh, a game here and there was savored, but basketball became a blur. It wasn't until Jan. 9, 1996, the season I became a columnist, that the game reclaimed me.

I was at Tennessee for a UConn women's game when a blizzard hit the East. I was frantic to get back for the UConn-Villanova showdown. This was No.6 in the nation vs. No.7, Kerry Kittles vs. Ray Allen. A couple feet of snow shut down Bradley. Logan? Nope. La Guardia? Newark? Sorry. Finally, Scott Gray and Meghan Pattyson, who had broadcast the game, and I found a flight through Albany. We rented a car and drove through the snow only to find the game had been postponed 24 hours.

Allen later would talk about watching a tape of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird for motivation. Whatever the reason, he was unstoppable. There may have been better halves of basketball by a UConn player. None come to mind. He had 22 at halftime. Afterward, Calhoun called Allen the best player in the country. He called Allen the best player he had ever coached.

I just sat there that night, thinking about Jimmy Walker and how Ray Allen made me love the game all over again. And now, another decade later, Walk is gone and Ray is back. Permit to believe it's no accident. Allow me to believe that somewhere in the basketball cosmos, this was all by design. It would make an 11-year-old boy very happy.
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Re: Jimmy Walker, RIP

Postby rlee » Tue Aug 02, 2016 10:31 pm

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