LANGLEY — Alex Walker thought her basketball career was over earlier this month after she helped lead North Vancouver’s Carson Graham Eagles to a berth at the B.C. senior girls AAA championships at the Langley Events Centre.
But then she got the call to lace up her sneakers one more time.
“I forgot all about the all-star game,” she says with a laugh. “Now I get to play one more time with Tanis.”
Indeed, Walker and her Eagles’ teammate, UBC-bound forward Tanis Metcalfe, are both a part of the Lower Mainland roster, which will oppose the Fraser Valley in the all-Grade 12 seniors high school all-star game tipping off Tuesday (7:15 p.m.) at Burnaby’s St. Thomas More Collegiate.
Yet it’s not like Walker, one of the most under-rated players in B.C.’s Class of 2018, couldn’t have continued her basketball career at the next level.
In fact, if you study the resume of the 5-foot-8 point guard, who this past season averaged 26 points, five assists and nine rebounds per game, you could make a case that she is one of the most highly decorated players in recent provincial history to decide not to play university basketball.
Take her impressive stat line, then combine it with back-to-back summer gigs on the B.C. Under-16 and Under-17 provincial teams, and it’s no wonder that she had generated considerable interest from both U Sports and U.S.-based collegiate basketball programs.
Yet this coming fall, following in what has truly become a family tradition, Walker will leave the basketball court behind to take up permanent residence on the tennis court as a freshman with the NCAA Div. 1 Montana Grizzlies.
“I guess I have always found it easy to play both because my parents and my sister each did the same thing,” she explains. “So I’ve always just made the time.”
Tuesday’s Lower Mainland-Fraser Valley all-star game — a Futures game for Grades 9-11 opens the evening’s festivities at 5:30 p.m. — closes a chapter for some of this province’s most talented graduating seniors.
Walker certainly strides comfortably within that crowd, yet it’s not just the uniqueness of her dual-sport choice which separates her from all of the rest.
More, it is the genuine way in which she pursued that two-sport career, most specifically the way she gave herself over to basketball training, knowing all the while that in her heart of hearts, tennis was still going to be her ultimate focus as a collegiate athlete.
“I took some time off the (tennis) tournament scene to focus on making the provincial (basketball) team,” Walker adds of this past summer, one in which she represented her province at the Canada Summer Games.
Yet wasn’t there a worry that any time spent playing basketball at such a critical juncture of her high school career would hinder her ability to get a tennis scholarship?
“I have always just loved both sports, so it never really crossed my mind,” says Walker. “I just did it.”
That’s her essence.
“She is the 110 per cent girl, the one with the big smile that supports everyone on the team and is such a leader,” begins Carson Graham senior girls basketball head coach Cameron Nelson of a character profile which is sure to please Walker’s new tennis coaches at Montana.
“She promised to put tennis on the back burner for the basketball season,” continued Nelson. “She gave us six practices a week at 100 per cent commitment.”
To Nelson, it was refreshing to see a student-athlete who understood what total buy-in actually meant.
And furthermore, that Walker was ready to do it, confident in the fact that there were aspects of team building, time management and cross-training that she was getting through basketball that were going to make her a better teammate once she arrived in Missoula this fall to join her new Grizzlies tennis teammates.
And of course, the support and experience of her family in this most specialized area was huge.
Dad Fabio and mom Amy met as scholarship tennis players at Texas Tech in the early 1990s. Then, two years ago, Alex’s older sister Angie graduated from Carson Graham as a basketball-tennis standout, and also chose tennis, and is currently a sophomore at NCAA Div 1 Idaho State.
And just for the record, Alex Walker’s credentials on the tennis court are even greater than the one’s she’s accrued on the basketball court.
She is a two-time B.C. singles champion, and a runner-up at nationals in doubles.
Interestingly enough, Alex’s Montana Grizzlies and big sister Angie’s Idaho State Bengals both play in the same Big Sky Conference, meaning there is a possibility of a Walker sisters family first.
“I have always looked up to her and we’re very close,” says Alex, who is contemplating a major in psychology. “(Our teams) will play against each other. I don’t know about us specifically. I hope we don’t. We’ve practiced against each other but we’ve never played against each other in a match.”
But before she has to worry about any of that, she’ll first have to bid farewell to her basketball career.
“The girls I played with were amazing and we always tried to keep a positive spirit within our team,” she says Walker, whose Carson Graham career saw her play with the same core of girls since the eighth grade, a group which made the provincials every year of her high school career. “It’s going to be sad and I’ll miss it a lot, but there’s a lot ahead with tennis that I am really looking forward to.”
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