Viewpoint: Walker Highlighted Exciting Era
Dan Bock rolls a basketball the width of the old East High basketball court and watches as it curves left. The floor is uneven, he says. A retest with a different ball produces a straight path and he correctly guesses it was the ball.
The 51-year-old court, now used for Bremerton Middle School, sits silent the days Bock and Bill Wing aren't setting up gear and conducting Bremerton sixth-grade fitness classes. But once there was a lot of magic in this place, the best over a three-year span from 1971-74 when 6-foot-5 sophomore Rick Walker led the East Knights to second place in the state, and then the next two seasons helped East to a 51-2 record and back-to-back 2A state championships.
I know this will bring arguments, but Walker is the best high school player I have ever seen around here. Now he teaches computers and coaches boys basketball at King's West, although he's stepped back this season from his coaching duties and taken more of an advisory role.
During the Walker years, things were poppin' at the old gym. Former East coach Les Eathorne prowls his Manette house in retirement, but during those years, just before tip-off, he would be out on the court with a broom, sweeping from baseline to baseline — back and forth, back and forth.
"I could sweep the floor and think about the upcoming game," Eathorne said.
Fire marshals often closed the gym, sometimes as early as 5:30 p.m. for a 7:30 game, because it had reached its occupancy.
During pre-game introductions, the lights would go out, a glare from a spotlight would flash all over the gym, and the place would go nuts. Each East starter would be introduced while the spotlight followed them out to the middle of the court.
PT Barnum would have been proud.
When the lights came on, Walker came on.
I thought Eathorne would disagree with me about Walker. I figured he would say Marvin Williams was the best high school player. But he didn't disagree with my choice.
We both agree as a high school player, Williams had more upside, but Walker was more fundamentally sound and enjoyed the game for what it was, a game. Williams won an NCAA championship his only year at North Carolina and is in his third year with the Atlanta Hawks. Walker made Little All-American at the University of Puget Sound, setting scoring records, but went no further.
One night not too long ago in the Bremerton gym, South Kitsap's Adam Bennett held Williams to six points. That would not have happened with Walker.
"Walker probably could have taken Williams and shut him out," Eathorne said. "I was amazed what Walker did to those Cleveland kids (a highly touted 1974 team, including 7-foot Jawann Oldham who played in the NBA). He shut them down (in the state semifinals)."
Walker, who averaged 24.4 points his senior year, made everybody around him better. He could have scored more, but would rather share the ball than hog it. But when East needed a basket — which was seldom because East usually blew their opponents out by halftime — Walker got it.
Williams broke Walker's career scoring record at Bremerton with 1,527 points (and single game record with 45) and averaged a West Sound career-best of 23.1, but he did not make players around him better. His teams were average at best, and while he oozed with talent, it never was fully on display. You knew he would be a good college player and play in the NBA, but he couldn't carry his team or make them better like Walker did.
One thing they share in common — both were good kids in high school and continue to be good people. Walker does more good things in the Kitsap community than most people know. He's wonderful with kids.
And he can still play.
Next week, Bock and Wing will go with the sixth-graders to the newly built wing at Mountain View Middle School on Perry Avenue and the old gym will again go silent.
As Bock and Wing lock the gym, they leave behind aging memories of those 1970s magic moments when the best high school player to ever play around here would soar to the basket for two more.