Ahmad Walker couldn’t help but remember what Will Brown said on the sideline of their regular season finale back in 2013.
After the 6’4” Walker drove the right baseline for a layup, Brown on the ensuing possession yelled at his defender, “Sam, he can’t shoot.”
In his first season as a redshirt freshman, Walker made his living by cleaning up, grabbing rebounds and adding points where he could get them. However his shooting struggles, especially from the free throw line were well known by the end of his first season.
“He was a wild animal, he was out of control, he couldn’t shoot,” Jameel Warney said of Walker’s freshman year. “There were some games where he’d just go off the edge and he didn’t know what’s going on.”
After that first season playing, he and head coach Steve Pikiell disagreed on his future in the program. Walker said they did not “see eye to eye” and decided to part their separate ways.
“I was rooting for them the whole time, I’m up watching the [championship] game early in the morning,” Walker said. “There’s never been any bad blood. I mean, it was hard because obviously I wanted to be on the court out there with them, but I understood that I couldn’t be at the time.”
Walker could only sit and watch the friends that he maintained from the Seawolves program fall at the last second in the America East championship game to Albany. Once he completed his sophomore season at Barton CC in Kansas, it was not clear that he would return to Stony Brook. Walker averaged 20.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg and 5.5 assists per game to become a Junior College All-American as a sophomore. Most importantly, he improved his shooting percentages, making 75% of his free throws compared to 60.5% as a freshman.
“I worked a lot on that when I was at junior college,” Walker said of his shooting. “Every day just a lot of shots on the gun, working on my confidence, on my form, things like that. At that level, if you’re coming from a Division I program, you’re expected to do more.”
“I was 21 years old at the junior college because I redshirted and everything like that, so I was older but I knew what to expect, I knew how hard I needed to work, but being there it was you got to do everything on your own. You got to work on your game by yourself, lift by yourself, so it caused me to grow up and become more mature.”
During the season the Seawolves coaches kept in contact with Walker, texting him following games and even being as far away in Kansas, Walker would ask the coaches questions to help his game.
“I’ve really missed the program when I was gone,” Walker said. “I realized how much I loved it and how much you’re loved here as a player. Going from Division I to a junior college level, it’s not only a big drop in talent, but also a big drop in everything. You just realize how good you have it.”
Walker considered other schools, as Stony Brook did not have a scholarship for him until the departures of Chris Braley, Ryan Burnett and Scott King opened up room for him to return.
“I was talking to other schools and things like that, but once I talked to coach Pikiell and everything and they had another scholarship for me, I knew exactly where I wanted to go,” Walker said. “I knew I wanted to come back here.”
Teammates like senior Carson Puriefoy have seen how Walker has transformed his game. Pikiell refers to the 6’4” junior as one of their best defenders and hopes his athleticism can help push Stony Brook to another strong America East finish.
“He’s definitely grown up and I think we all have,” Puriefoy said. “But him specifically, taking a year off going away to the middle of nowhere in Kansas, I think he’s definitely realized what it takes to be a member of this team and how we do things here. I think he’s grown a lot. I think we’ve all grown a lot and we’re going to have a great season.”
Walker knows he could have helped push Stony Brook over the top last season, but said he can’t think like that, looking back on their championship game loss to Albany. Now he’ll hope to convert on the court for the Seawolves when it counts.
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.