Six months ago, Jordan Walker sat at a table in the gym of The Patrick School, the same gym that he spent countless hours in working on his game to reach this moment.
Dressed in a shirt and tie, Walker was getting ready to announce in front of his family, friends, teammates, coaches and members of the media that he would be playing college basketball at the only school he truly wanted to play for – Seton Hall University.
On the surface, the freshman is a speedy, high-energy point guard who never takes a play off and has a knack for making highlight reel plays that sends crowds into a frenzy. His teammates love him and his passion for the game is unmatched, but there is much more to Walker than what can be seen on a basketball court.
If one really wants to understand what Walker is all about, one would have to go back 13 years to the parks of New York City where he grew up.
At the age of five, Walker would grab his basketball and head to the park like many kids his age did growing up in the city. However, Walker was not going to the park to hang out with his kindergarten friends, he was heading to the park to play against kids twice his age.
“I had to be tough, I had to have heart,” Walker said of his experiences playing with the older kids. “That’s the main things I strive on, confidence and heart and that was what I needed to play with the older kids.”
Playing against the older kids helped Walker grow as a player, but it was a day that he spent on the court with his older brother when the other kids were not around when Walker realized how much he had really improved.
“We were on the court one day and we were playing one-on-one, and that was the first time I ever got close to beating him,” Walker said. “I haven’t beat him yet, but I got close to it and I really realized ‘I’m getting better.’”
As the years passed, Walker got better and it was time for him to bring his game to the high school ranks. He started his high school career at Long Island Lutheran high school, but playing time was hard to come by and Walker made the decision to transfer following his sophomore year.
Walker landed at The Patrick School in Hillside, N.J., a somewhat unexpected landing spot for a kid who grew up in New York and played his AAU ball for a New York-based program, the New York Lightning.
While The Patrick School has established itself as one of the top programs in New Jersey and even produced Seton Hall assistant coach Shaheen Holloway and current Seton Hall forward Angel Delgado, the school’s basketball pedigree is not what won him over. For Walker, it was about following the path of his favorite player and idol.
“I love Kyrie Irving, he’s my favorite player,” Walker said. “I’ve been watching Kyrie since he was at St. Pat’s and in his senior year; I recorded all of his games and everything. I really wanted to be like Kyrie Irving and once I had the opportunity to go play at the school that he went to, I had to go.”
Although he backed up current Harvard guard Bryce Aiken in his first year at The Patrick School, Walker made an instant impact upon his arrival, bringing energy and passion to practices and games.
“The first thing that stands out with Jordan is his energy and passion for the game,” Patrick School co-coach and former Rutgers head coach Mike Rice said of Walker. “There is nobody who has more energy on the floor, practicing or games, than him.”
Walker’s energy has always been one of the things to set him apart but sometimes, it has hurt him as well, to the point where Rice would have to pull him to the side and tell him to slow down a bit.
“Getting him focused and calming him down and making him realize you don’t have to go 1,000 miles per hour was some of the things that he needed to overcome to learn and develop,” Rice said. “It took him some time to develop that because he used his speed and quickness as a weapon his whole life and now, a coach is telling him that it’s one of his faults was new to him.”
Once Walker got his game under control, it all came together for him in his senior year, which ended in a Tournament of Champions title.
Despite the success that Walker had in his senior year, the offers from colleges were slow to come in and Walker’s recruitment drew out all the way into May 2017, to the point where it looked like he might never make it to South Orange. It got to the point where Walker was considering taking a prep year at Montverde Academy in Florida, until the Seton Hall coaching staff put on the full court press to secure his commitment.
“I was tremendously close [to going to Montverde],” Walker said. “If it weren’t for Seton Hall, I probably would have went. Seton Hall was where I wanted to be for the last two and-a-half years.”
Between sitting on the bench for his first two years of high school and not getting as much attention from high-major programs as one would expect for a point guard who has accomplished what he did by the end of his high school career, being doubted is nothing new for Walker. From being considered the “little guy” his whole life to critics saying that he would not be able to cut it playing in the Big East, Walker has been playing with a chip on his shoulder for most of his life.
“Not even just being the little guy, being doubted a lot in my life not just in basketball, but in a lot of other things,” Walker said. “I think that’s why I play with a chip on my shoulder, because people did doubt me.”
“He relishes in that small guy’s role with forget about a chip, a boulder on his shoulder,” Rice said. “He wants to prove everybody wrong and he’s done it for years.”
As Walker’s Seton Hall career progresses, he will almost undoubtedly become a fan-favorite before his time is up in South Orange. Thanks to hard work and his determination to prove naysayers wrong, Walker is in a good position to not only prove them wrong, but also shatter expectations in his time with the Pirates.
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.