Morehouse’s Tyrius Walker is on the Knicks’ summer league roster, a step closer to his NBA dream
But he’ll have to prove again that he can play his best with the best emerging talent
Tyrius Walker wanted to quit basketball.
Most schools thought he was too small. The coach who had originally recruited him to Jacksonville State ended up getting fired. He was done.
“I had already stopped playing basketball after I figured it was over with,” Walker recalled, “and [Morehouse] Coach [Grady] Brewer just came to my house and was like, ‘Don’t give up. You’re going to get where you want to be. Just stay patient.’ ”
And that’s exactly what he did. Every doubt, slight and shot, Walker took it on the chin. It fueled him. And thank God, too — Walker’s 22.8 points per game during the 2017-18 season played a crucial role in leading the Morehouse Maroon Tigers to the best start in school history. Four years after contemplating retirement, he’s earned the opportunity of a lifetime: a roster spot on the New York Knicks’ summer league team.
“I feel like people are waking up now,” Walker said. “But I’m definitely still going to do what I do and let it go from there. I just want to show New York and the rest of team that I can bring winning back to their culture.”
For Walker to become only the second player in Morehouse history to play in the NBA, he’ll have to first make a mark in the Las Vegas Summer League. His first opportunity will come against his hometown Atlanta Hawks, pitting the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) product against freshman sensation Trae Young.
You’re probably reading this and already doubting Walker’s ability. Don’t. Or maybe you should: If his Morehouse career was any indication, Walker loved when the odds were against him.
“Whoever [doesn’t] give him an opportunity will regret it, in my opinion,” said Brewer. “I’ve coached professional basketball players: Elmore Spencer, Harold Ellis, Larry Lewis — the latter two were from Morehouse. I kind of got an idea of people who have it, and I think Tyrius has it.”
That “it” has been on display since day one. The Maroon Tigers were coming off a 7-20 season when Walker arrived on campus during the fall of 2014. The next season, the Maroon Tigers went 15-10 in large part because of Walker, who led the team in scoring (14.8) and assists (2.8) as well as seven other categories en route to being named SIAC Freshman of the Year.
Academic ineligibility limited him to only 11 games during his sophomore season. But he wasn’t fazed. He bounced back the next year, leading Morehouse to an 18-0 record while collecting a slew of accolades in the process.
“He is a gamer,” Brewer said. “When the lights come on, he’s going to get it done. His potential, it really, really hasn’t been seen. … This guy is special.”
Watch Walker play for any amount of time and it’s not difficult to point out why he dominated at the Division II level. Call it hunger, aggressiveness, vindictiveness — the 6-foot-1 guard just wasn’t cut the same. Six-year NBA veteran Kyle O’Quinn saw it almost immediately at last summer’s inaugural National Basketball Players Association Top 50 camp. O’Quinn, who played four years at Norfolk State, was impressed by Walker’s scoring and playmaking ability, and something else:
“He had a little chip on his shoulder,” O’Quinn said. “He wanted to prove people wrong [and] just prove to people that he belonged.
“I know coming from an HBCU [historically black college or university], you gotta have that mentality because if you don’t, you’ll just get labeled as a small Division I, Division II player. I think he had his mindset straight coming into his senior year.”
Knicks scouts saw this firsthand when Walker put up a career-high 47 points in an overtime victory against Benedict College. He couldn’t — or, better yet, wouldn’t — be stopped, as he scored all 11 of his team’s overtime points.
“He’s always his best when his best is needed. He’d always tell me during the year, ‘Don’t worry, Coach,’ and at the end of the game I didn’t have to worry, because he’d do it. The bigger the game, the bigger he was going to be.”
No game, however, matched the intensity of Morehouse’s matchup against cross-campus rival Clark Atlanta. Think of it as the historically black college version of Duke vs. the University of North Carolina. In his seven games against the Panthers, Walker lost only twice while averaging just under 23 points on 46 percent shooting and seven rebounds. Walker’s knack for showing up when it mattered was a crucial selling point for Darrell Comer, the Morehouse product’s agent.
“You have to take into consideration what he accomplished on that level as far as scoring records, as far as big games, as far as how he competed when he played Division I teams and held his own like he did against a UGA,” Comer said. “He’s played against some high-level competition and shown on film that he can hold his own.”
Although no one questioned Walker’s ability to score, it was his ability to create opportunities for others that drew some concerns. The Knicks flew Walker out to New York for a workout on June 5 in an effort to see how he measured up against players from Division I schools. One of the highlights included a game of 3-on-3 featuring the likes of Billy Preston and Jaylen Barford. In his first time in the big city, he didn’t back down.
“I guess they felt like I was just a scoring guard, but they saw that I can create for others and make everyone else around me better too,” Walker said.
The Knicks and Hawks face off Saturday, the first day of summer league play. He’ll be playing against several highly touted draft picks, including Young, Michael Porter Jr., Mohamed Bamba and Robert Williams.
A tough matchup? Of course — Young was taken fifth overall in June’s NBA draft for a reason. But this wouldn’t be the first time Walker has to silence the doubters. And it definitely won’t be the last.