||08-30-2012 10:07 AM
Nice update on Kemba
Kemba Walker didn’t go to Italy, Australia or Brazil this off-season.
He went to the gym.
What did Walker, who will start at point guard next season for the Charlotte Bobcats, do on summer vacation?
He stayed in Charlotte. He shot.
“Just pretty much everything," Walker said late Wednesday afternoon. "You know, pick and roll, just taking a whole bunch of shots. Overall, shooting.”
Walker and I sit in the first row of bleachers at the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club of Charlotte gym on Milton Road. Around us, kids shoot at four sideline baskets with wooden backboards and at baskets at each end of the court with glass backboards.
Under Armour, with which Walker has an endorsement deal, replaced the club’s old light blue basketball court with a court that’s dazzling and shiny and so new you can smell the lacquer.
A tall kid is invited to make the gym’s first official basket. His jump shot bounces off the rim. Another tall kid misses, and then a third does.
Ezekiel Self, who is not a tall kid, who is only 6 years old, walks up to the basket, flips the ball up as if he knows he’ll make it and is loudly cheered when the ball drops in.
You have access to a court like this when you were 6?
“Not at all,” says Walker, who is from the Bronx. “I went to a Boys and Girls Club, too. I wish I did. It’s pretty cool.”
Self wouldn’t have started for the Bobcats last season, but he might have played. The Bobcats won seven of 66 games. A first-round pick, Walker was the back-up point guard. When the season ended, so did the tenure of point guard D.J. Augustin. Walker is the starter now.
You’re the leader.
“I agree,” says Walker. “Coach is really pushing me to be the leader and pushing me to use my voice. I’m trying to embrace that role.”
Coach is Mike Dunlap. He’s new. Guards Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon are new. Big man Brendan Hayward is new. Draft pick Jeff Taylor is new. Also new is the No. 2 pick in last June’s draft, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Kidd-Gilchrist is from New Jersey. Walker knows him.
“Very happy, very happy,” Walker says about the selection of Kidd-Gilchrist. “He was the next best player in the draft (behind Kentucky teammate Anthony Davis) and we had to take him. Not only that. He’s a great person. He’s a great kid. He’s going to be a great teammate. That’s what we need. We need high character guys. He can obviously play basketball.”
Walker calls Kidd-Gilchrist, who turns 19 next month, a kid. Later Walker talks about the Charlotte’s veteran leaders and cites Gerald Henderson. Henderson turns 25 in December. Walker is 22.
Last season, youth was served up. Maybe this season it will begin to be served. Walker loves the changes.
“I’m excited to be the point guard of this team,” he says.
Walker averaged 12.1 points and 4.4 assists per game last season. He could get his shot off against anybody. But most of the time it did not go in. He shot 37 percent from the field.
Context is required. Walker played for a legendarily bad team that lost its final 23 games.
His best quality was gall. As undersized as he is – he’s listed at 6-foot-1 and if he stands on the bleachers he is at least that – Walker imposed himself.
He might miss five straight shots. But he is still going to the basket no matter how many shots he has missed or who is in the way.
He might lose. But he never lost quietly.
Two seasons ago, the Carolina Panthers were where the Bobcats are now – the worst team in their league. The season after the Panthers bottomed out they became competitive. This season, the season after they became competitive, the playoffs are a possibility.
Can the Bobcats do what the Panthers have?
“We definitely can,” says Walker. “We will. We will. Man, I’m excited, my teammates are excited. I think Charlotte should look forward to big things in the future.”
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