On Saturday when Western Kentucky rolls into town, Rhode Island welcomes a new teammate to game action as 6-9, 230 pound Georgetown transfer Antwan Walker becomes eligible.
The redshirt sophomore sat a full year in academic residence after officially transferring to Kingston last November. A former 4-star recruit, Walker is said to have fielded interest from South Carolina, Xavier, and James Madison as he considered where to continue his studies and basketball.
I connected with Walker to chat as his excitement builds about joining his teammates on the floor.
Chris DiSano: Taking us back to the process of your search for the right fit… how, why, and when did you know Rhode Island was the place?
Antwan Walker: I realized URI was the right fit as soon as I stepped on campus last year for my visit. I figured that out quickly because Coach Cox and I instantly had a connection. Him being from my area and us knowing each other from that DC/ Maryland area.
Coming here to play for Coach Cox is an honor and it’s been a blessing for someone to understand me, understand where I come from, know my game, want to help me expand my game… I feel we have all the tools and everything here to help me get to the next level.
CD: You talked a bit about your connection with Coach Cox… Can you expound upon the connection you quickly formed with him and did you connect with others immediately too?
AW: I always knew a little bit about Coach Cox. As soon as we met, he told me about himself, how things would be here, my role on this team, and I really respected that and formed a great connection.
Coach Sutton and I were familiar with each other from the recruiting process and we’re cool, so him being here made it even better. And T.J. Buchanan is another coach that I kicked it off with when I first got here on campus. He’s younger and he understands what it is to be a student-athlete and college player, being one not too long ago.
I hit it off with all the players but I knew Jeff, Jermaine, Tyrese… I knew of Cyril, and they already knew who I was. It wasn’t like that at all the other schools I was talking to and visiting.
CD: Can you help fans understand a little bit about your game?
AW: I basically call myself a basketball player [all-around]. I like to pass the ball, get my teammates involved… I’m like a hype guy but better than a normal hype guy. I bring energy and it doesn’t matter if I’m having a bad day, because I know that’s what my team needs to win. I’m a stretch four, like to shoot, I’m athletic, and I take pride in my defense and defend really well, I will say.
CD: Is there a player you compare yourself to or a guy you want to emulate?
AW: To be honest, there’s a player that used to go to my old school named Jessie Govan that I looked up to.
He’s a post player, helped me with my hook shot, helped me a lot. He was a senior when I was a freshman at Georgetown, so I really looked up to him. He helped me with my game, told me the things I needed to do so I’d be ahead when I got older.
CD: During your red shirt year, what were your focuses in terms of your individual development?
AW: My biggest thing that Coach Cox has helped me with is moving onto the next play. I like to beat myself up and used to do it so much; get mad at myself.
I’ve learned to chill. He knows when I’m mad at myself by my body language, shoulders. He’ll tell me to calm down, bring your shoulders down. I’ve worked on my handle too, shooting, extending… but the main thing has been moving onto the next play.
CD: What’s been the most difficult part of sitting out for you… and, conversely, what’s been a positive?
AW: It definitely makes you more mature. You sit back and learn way more than you would normally learn. For me, I’ve learned that you don’t have to play the game so fast… you can slow down, just play, and let it come to you.
One thing I didn’t like was watching my team play against these teams that I knew I could’ve helped in a big way. We took three “Ls” this year where I know I could’ve really helped our team because we just didn’t have enough depth in those games.
CD: How would you assess the team’s play so far?
AW: I think we’re playing great. We play hard, we have heart, we’re tough. We have young people on our team that have so much heart. I didn’t know we’d be like this right now… we really can be very good if we continue improving at the pace we are.
CD: Have you thought about how you’ll feel stepping on the court on Saturday?
AW: Definitely that first possession — I’ll want to get the butterflies out, run up and down the court, get somebody involved. I don’t necessarily need to get a bucket, just do something to contribute early. There will be some emotion for me because I haven’t been on the court in a while.
CD: Personally, who are important off the court influences for you?
AW: Definitely, the folks I call my first family – mom, sister, everybody being there for me, contacting me, telling me that my time is coming.
When I’ve had ups and downs about wanting to play and be there with my team on the court, they’ve calmed me down and been there. And also my high school coach since my 9th grade year… and he ended up being my AAU coach: Coach Trey Mines. I look at him in a father figure type way, because he’s always there.
Our connection is so deep and our relationship will always be there no matter what happens. He looks out for me so much, it’s unbelievable.
CD: Alright, let’s throw out a complete this sentence question to wrap it: In Antwan Walker, Rhode Island is getting a player who _________________?
AW: Rhode Island is getting a player who’s gonna bring it. A player who will give his all and is willing to do all the things to get his team a “W.” No matter what it is… diving on the floor, whatever, I’m always going to give my all. That’s a constant that will never change. Cheering for my teammates is important. All these guys are like brothers… Jeff, Jermaine, Mekhi, grew up in the DC/MD area. It’s a family.
Everybody talks about brotherhood at different programs, but this is really a brotherhood and I know people see it. How we talk to each other, how we take the court together, how we interact with each other… it’s real.
Chris DiSano, is an Atlantic 10 analyst and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano, who was named an NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44