With the new millennium upon us, it's perhaps only a coincidence that
West Sound's basketball player of the century happens to teach computer
And it's not going to surprise people who know Rick Walker that he's
already thinking about ways of using computers to reach out to young
Now 43, and after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in his knee
last April, Walker knows he can't play basketball forever.
"And I can't coach forever," said Walker, the boys basketball
coach at King's West who founded a Kitsap County-based sports ministry,
Sports Beyond, a decade ago.
"Maybe in the future I'll get involved in a ministry through
computers," Walker said. "When it comes to what really interests
young people today other than sports, it's computers. People love to
create Web sites and use them to communicate to each other."
Despite the distraction of coming from a family beset by divorce,
Walker always has been well-grounded and has known what he wanted in life.
"Help young people understand God's plan for their lives using
sports," Walker said. "That's really my mission field. That's
what I'm meant to do."
If it sounds like Rick Walker, local basketball legend, is almost too
good to be true, well, read on.
"Of all the kids I ever coached, besides ability, he had
character," said Les Eathorne, Walker's former neighbor and high
school coach. "I just wished he'd make a mistake, but he never did.
He didn't come from the best home life, but he just pulled himself up by
his bootstraps and he made it go."
Brant Gibler, who played with Walker at East and at the University of
Puget Sound, said,"As a person, as a player, he's who I would want to
Another East High teammate, Barry Cook, said, "He's the kind of
guy you get to know in your life, and you look back and think, 'I hope my
kids kind of turn out like him.' "
Graceful, reliable, unselfish
That Christian wholesomeness remains a huge part of Walker's package, as
do the stories about how he played the game.
So graceful and unselfish on the basketball court, where he was a
sophomore starter on East Bremerton's state AA runnerup team in 1972 and a
dominating 6-foot-5 force the next two years when the Knights went 51-2
and won a pair of state championships.
So steady and reliable during a four-year career at the University of
Puget Sound, where he helped the Loggers win an NCAA Division II title
during his sophomore year in 1976 and get to the NCAA regional finals on
two other occasions. When he graduated as the Loggers' career scoring
leader, a lot of people shook their heads and wondered how that had
It wasn't like he was going for 30 and 40 points a night. It was more
like 18, 22, 24, 19, 26, 14.
"Walker was the stable guy," Gibler said. "He was never
flamboyant, but when you come down and things are kind of rough, you throw
it to Rick, and he banks a 15-footer."
He might be a new-age computer whiz, but Walker had a game that would
transcend any era.
It was Joe DiMaggio-like.
"Oh, God, yes, he could play," Eathorne said. "He just
did it. He didn't attract attention to himself by high-fives and crazy
things. He just played. It was a joy to watch him.
"If you were down on floor level and he was running the floor,
you'd keep thinking, 'Why doesn't he throw it into gear?' He was running
so effortlessly, you really had to watch. I was amazed how he did it
running so slow, taking those tremendous strides, covering all that
"He'd get back on defense and somebody would go up with a shot. A
lot of kids would foul in that situation. Walker would block it and get it
to where he could grab it."
Offensively, he was deadly with a 15-foot bank shot and effective inside,
where he was stronger than he looked.
"When he went up to the basket, he took people with him,"
Eathorne said. "Quite often when they hit him hard, he put it
Walker scored 29 points and grabbed 21 rebounds in East's 79-73
semifinal victory over a Cleveland team in 1974 that featured three future
NCAA Division I players: 6-9 Jawann Oldham, 6-7 James Woods and guard Carl
Walker earned prep All-America honors after averaging 25 points and 15
rebounds his senior year for the 28-1 Knights.
That year, he hooked up in two memorable games with Clint Richardson
and the O'Dea Irish. Walker scored 42 points and Richardson, a 6-2 junior
who would play in the NBA, scored 38 in East's 87-85 double-overtime
victory. The game was played before 350 fans in a tiny Seattle elementary
school gym that had metal backboards. At one point in the third quarter,
with the score tied at 38, Richardson rifled in seven straight shots
without a miss. Walker answered by making six straight.
Later in the season, Walker had 40 points, 13 rebounds, four blocked
shots and often led the fastbreak during an 82-69 victory at East High.
"Those were the best times," Walker said, "because it
was with a group of guys you grew up with. Going to the state championship
game is as high as you can go in high school, and we got there three
Intensity plus humility
Walker, a center in high school, had to learn to play away from the basket
in college. It took some adjusting, but five or six games into his
freshman season, he was a starter.
Walker appeared laid-back, but he played the game with an inner-fire.
"If you don't have butterflies in your stomach for any game,
you're not ready," he said. "I just preferred not to show it on
the court or off the court or verbalize it. I didn't see a need to get
anybody else more angry at me than they already were.
"You had to keep your composure. I wasn't going to let anybody
beat me at the game, but I wasn't mean-spirited about it. Let your play
silence them. You have the right to do what you're doing, just do it
respectfully, humbly. That's what the game is all about."
That style fits Walker's personality.
"Sometimes, with a quiet personality, you can also play soft. If
you ask my teammates, I don't think I was known for playing soft, but I
understand where people are coming from when they talk about that,"
he said. "Today, as a coach, I think there's a need to encourage
players to communicate with intensity and play and move with intensity. At
the same time, you don't have to be somebody you're not."
Walker, surrounded by all-star casts at East (Gibler, Rich Arena, Clif
McKenzie, Mike Walthall, Dan Hegland) and UPS (Gibler, Tim Evans, Curt
Peterson), consciously tried to make his teammates look good.
"That's what I want to do," he said. "In doing that, I
have an opportunity to play well, too. When you are double and
triple-teamed, you have to look for your teammates. When they start
playing well, the pressure gets off you. Then you're able to play as a
team, not as individuals."
Don Zech, the former Puget Sound coach, said Walker's determination set
"He wasn't going to be distracted from becoming a better player by
lots of different things that were happening around him, whether it was
happening within his family or with other players," Zech said.
"Rick just continued to play. Probably the resolve he had came from
the faith he had as well."
Zech said the older players didn't want to practice against Walker.
"If you didn't play hard, he just beat the heck out of you. That's
what made him so good," Zech said. "The way he played, he could
have played at any Division I school."
No NBA ... no problem
Walker actually signed a letter of intent to attend Boise State, but Zech
made a late recruiting pitch after watching him average 23 points and 17
rebounds during East's four-game tournament run.
Walker took a visit and was impressed. He liked the players UPS had
recruited and he took a second visit.
"I prayed about it and really decided I was going to Boise State
for selfish reasons," Walker said. "My family enjoys going to
games to watch me, and they also had a Young Life Group on campus which
helped various outreach groups."
A lot of people thought Walker would get a shot at an NBA career.
Gibler, selected in the eighth round of the NBA draft by Portland, says
Walker's unspectacular style, while effective at UPS, probably didn't
impress pro scouts.
Walker, naturally, has wondered if he could have made it.
"When I look back, yeah, I could have been an Adrian Dantley. He
was not that tall," Walker said of the former all-star forward.
"But he was smart and effective in what he did. He wasn't flashy, but
he got the job done. That's basically the kind of player I was: go out and
get the job done. I was not fancy, but I could get it done. How long that
could last, I don't know ... we'll never know."
Walker has no regrets. He feels he's doing what he was put on earth to
"I don't know if I'm really that good of a coach," he said,
crediting King's West assistant Al Gleich for being "the brains
behind the game." Walker's more interested in teaching "lessons
about life and shaping character."
Tradition and community
He remembers those trips to Eathorne's open-gym sessions "with all
the neighborhood kids" as an elementary and junior-high student.
"We'd just watch," said Walker, who was in the same class as
Eathorne's son Mark and grew up in the same neighborhood. "Les lived
right behind us. Being a kid and being able to go to the gym on those
special times, you'd really get a feel for what it's like when you got old
enough to play."
Walker continues the tradition at King's West, opening the gym's doors
He remembers how basketball helped get him through some tough times.
"Coming from a divorced family, there was always, 'What house am I
going to?' " Walker said. "My parents were very supportive, but
it's tough for a young person to sort that through.
"But again, there was a community, a basketball community, and
there was the neighborhood and the church," said Walker, who met his
wife, Bev, through a Christian group. They have two children — son Luke
is a freshman at Western Baptist and daughter Bekah is a junior at King's
West. "There was a central community there that I felt supported by
— especially coaches.
"The role of a coach today is so important. I don't know if many
understand the impact they can have on kids' lives. How you respond to
them; how you develop the team unit. ... That was the one thing that
brought my family together. Basketball was the chance for us to see each
other and interact with each other."
Our society is still absorbed with its sports icons — and Walker's
one of the best to pass through West Sound.
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