By Tom Ballato
Every player’s basketball journey is different, no two stories are alike, but for Henry Walker, the game of basketball has given him everything despite multiple setbacks.
Henry Walker was a top 10 high school recruit who committed to play college basketball at Kansas State. Despite tearing his ACL before college, Walker recovered and was still an explosive athlete. His highlights were filled with dunks and excitement, but just six games into his freshman season, he tore his ACL in his left knee.
He returned his sophomore season with a loaded freshman class that included Michael Beasley and Jacob Pullen. The talent on the team put Kansas State in the national spotlight. In 31 games, Walker averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. After the season, he declared for the NBA Draft.
When describing his time at Kansas State, Walker responded. “My time at KState was fun, especially playing with some of my friends. Beasley and Pullen were like my brothers. My greatest memory by far was beating Kansas at home and ending the streak they had over us. That game showcased how good we could be if we put it all together. The crowd was storming the court, and everybody was showing love and unity. Bramlage (Coliseum) was the top five loudest places I’ve ever played at that moment.”
Walker fell in the draft due to a pre-draft injury. He tore his meniscus, but the Washington Wizards selected him in the 2nd round with the 17th pick (47th overall) in 2008. A few days later, the Wizards traded him to the Boston Celtics.
His first professional season, he bounced between the NBA D-League and the Boston Celtics. His injuries paid a toll on him, but it allowed him to develop other parts of his game. Boston shipped Walker after a season and a half to the New York Knicks in a package that sent Nate Robinson to Boston.
The Knicks gave Walker an opportunity, and in Mike D’Antoni’s system, he was comfortable, but playing in New York wasn’t easy. He described his time in New York and said, “I enjoyed playing for coach D’Antoni, he put a lot of confidence in me and helped me realize that I had what it takes to perform on the NBA level. It didn’t happen as I would’ve liked. We got Stat (Amar’e Stoudemire) and Carmelo (Anthony), and my opportunity to play decreased understandably. Knicks fans are very knowledgeable about basketball but have zero patience. If you are winning, it’s a great atmosphere, but if you are losing, then the fans will boo and cheer for the opposing team. It gets frustrating, but it’s all part of the Madison Square Garden experience.
In parts of two and half-seasons in New York, he averaged 6.7 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. Walker enjoyed his time with the Knicks, but he became a free agent at the end of the 2012 season.
Walker bounced around the D-League and even spent some time playing in Venezuela. He returned to the D-League in 2014-15 before receiving a 10-day contract from the Miami Heat. The Heat went on to give him a second 10-day contract and eventually signed him for the rest of the 2015 season. Walker was out of the NBA for a little more than two years. When asked to describe the emotions of being called up to the NBA, Walker replied, “To be honest, I was surprised to get the call-up. It’s usually bigger guys getting the call ups, but I put the work in, and I knew I could make it again if given a chance. Getting called up by Miami made it sweet because I got to play with guys like Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem.
After his stint in Miami, Walker returned to playing basketball overseas. He’s made stops in Croatia, Philippines, Turkey, and is currently playing in Japan.
When asked what he enjoys most about playing overseas, Walker responded, “Playing overseas is tough, but I’ve enjoyed being able to be a number 1 option again and having the ball in my hands. Playing in the NBA, I didn’t have a chance to show my whole skill set.”
Parts of his game that are now on display include being a ball-handler, and he can showcase his playmaking ability. He facilitates like a point guard while playing the forward position. In the NBA, Walker had to sit and wait for the play to come to him. He was primarily was used as just a spot-up shooter.
The past two years, he has played for the Shiga Lakestars in the Japanese B.League. In a veteran role, Walker has been grinding with a young team.
“The thing I enjoy most here is just a competitive spirit amongst everyone. The league as a whole is solid, and any team can win any day, so it’s very tough to get to the top.” -Henry Walker on his time in Japan.
This season the Lakestars have a 21-18 record and are in the playoff hunt. Walker is having another terrific season averaging 15.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game. He leads his team in assists.
Walker is enjoying the opportunity to play in Japan. The Japanese B.League is a very talented league that features many former NBA players. He is embracing his role as his team’s leader and making the most of everything that comes his way.
Walker is unsure where basketball will take him after this season. He enjoys playing in Japan, it has given him a chance to be a star, but he knows that in the game of basketball, you never know where your next stop could be.