Like It Is

OPINION | WALLY HALL: Walker may have built his best UALR team

Darrell Walker was fired up and he was nowhere near a basketball court.

The Arkansas-Little Rock head men's basketball coach -- and former NBA and Arkansas Razorback player -- was leading his Trojans on a tour of the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in Little Rock.

He was like a proud dad, stopping and pointing.

Many players, like Makhel Mitchell, who transferred from the University of Arkansas (and is waiting on some paperwork), hung on his every word.

Walker's transition from the tough projects of Chicago -- where it was not uncommon for him to leap over a body‚ to art collector and head coach is nothing short of amazing.

Eddie Sutton was the Razorbacks' coach who recognized the talent in the teenage Walker, who by his own admission was rebellious. Legendary DePaul coach Ray Meyer had tipped Sutton off because he felt Walker needed out of Chicago.

Sutton probably kicked Walker off the team a dozen times in his three seasons and every time Patsy Sutton, Eddie's wife, asked for another chance for the kid in whom she saw a lot of conflict and distrust, but a lot of heart, too.

At Arkansas, Walker's teammates included NBA-bound players, Joe Kleine and Alvin Robertson. During his three years as a starting guard for the Razorbacks, their record was 73-18 with two Southwest Conference championships and three appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

His senior season Walker was co-SWC Player of the Year and a second-team All American.

Walker was taken with the 12th pick of the first round of the NBA Draft by the New York Knicks.

He made the NBA All-Rookie team and went on to play for 10 years, winning a NBA championship with the Chicago Bulls, where he became close friends with Michael Jordan.

Walker and his wife Lisa, a former Razorback track and field star, had settled in Little Rock, but the lure of coaching in the NBA sent him on the road for 16 years, including time as the head coach at Toronto and Washington. But about 10 years ago, he wanted to come home.

He wanted to be the head coach at UALR, but despite all his experience he lacked one requirement, a college degree. So he went back to school, got his degree and was again turned down at UALR because of no college coaching experience.

An artist friend in Atlanta suggested he apply for the Clark Atlanta University job, and soon Walker was adapting to bus rides and living in a Hampton Inn.

In two seasons he was 45-18 and that brought the long-anticipated call from UALR where he won the Sun Belt Conference title in 2020 and was poised to make the NCAA Tournament. But covid-19 raised its ugly head and March Madness was cancelled.

The past three seasons haven't been as good, but finally top assistant Charles Baker insisted they throw old school out of their vocabulary and hit the transfer portal.

This may be Walker's best team ever, complete with five transfers -- including KK Robinson, who has spent four seasons mostly hurt at Arkansas and then at Texas A&M. The roster includes four players from other countries and two from Little Rock, Robinson and freshman Creed Williamson, son of Corliss Williamson.

It even has a player named Cougar (Downing) who can shoot lights out.

Including Mitchell, Walker has five players who are at least 6-8.

This season is dedicated to changing one stat from last year's 9-19 record.

"Last season we were tied or one point ahead or behind with the game on the line 12 times, and we lost every time,' Walker said. "This team won't let this happen. I like this team.'

From the hood to the hill to the NBA and the world of art, Walker also took this team to Italy, where names became faces and family.