“In all of my years of watching high school basketball, I have NEVER seen a player as electrifying as Bill Walker.” — DraftExpress.com, August 11, 2005
Eight years ago, Bill Walker entered college as one of the consensus top 10 high school recruits in the country, with leaping ability that drew him comparisons to Vince Carter.
Henry Walker is now 27, having undergone three major knee surgeries, played for nine different professional teams, and taken on a new identity (his given middle name).
After a season in which he received a GATORADE Call-Up from the Sioux Falls Skyforce to the affiliate Miami Heat, Walker tells his story to NBADLeague.com.
By Henry Walker, as told to Brian Kotloff
My name is Bill Henry Walker and this is my NBA journey…
Being one of the nation’s top recruits, it was just a different time. I had a lot of fun doing it — dunked on a lot of people. But I was very immature at 17, 18 years old. I don’t even know what I was thinking back then.
On the court, I think one thing that held me back was that I was so athletic, I didn’t focus on other parts of my game. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to think the game with my mind more. I can still get up there, but I learned from Andre Miller that if you want to play longer, you’ve got to stay on the floor. Even if I don’t fit here in Miami, I can somewhere else. I know that I belong on an NBA team.
[Editor’s Note: The Heat waived Walker on July 27.]
Huntington, West Virginia, where I’m from, is a place where a lot of people don’t make it out. There are not a lot of opportunities. People either work hard for nothing or they go down the wrong path and try to change their circumstances that way. It was tough, just coming up without my pops. I had a lot of death around me. My mom always stayed on me and just told me that there’s always a better way than what you see. “You have to see beyond this,” she would say.
[From the Miami Herald: “Walker’s father left the family when he was very young. He lived in a drug-infested neighborhood with his mother and sister in an abandoned home his mother renovated.
His mother worked two jobs, at Marshalls and Wendy’s, to support her two children and also, for a time, two cousins who moved in after Walker’s aunt died from AIDS.”]
Coming from the situation I was in and going out to Kansas State, it was a total culture shock for me. That took an adjustment. And then getting hurt, tearing my ACL halfway through my freshman season, I had a lot of negatives in my life. I wasn’t really in a positive place. I had to just keep working. Then I got to the NBA Draft workouts the next year and had another knee injury that basically destroyed my draft stock. From that point on, my career has pretty much been about trying to climb my way back up.
About two or three years ago, I really thought about, “You know what, I keep getting injured; I don’t know if I can go out there and do this anymore.” And then I kept looking at my daughter. And I thought to myself, “How am I going to tell my daughter? If she meets something in her life where it’s tough, how do I tell her to keep going when I quit?”
So that was my motivation. Coming from the environment I came from, my whole family’s strong, hard-working people. I didn’t have it in me to quit.
A lot of guys see the D-League as, “Aww man, I gotta go down here and play.” Me? I see it as, “Man, I’m going to sharpen my skills up.” I just love playing, I love competing, I love going out on the court. I love everything about the game. I’ve been doing this since I was 4.
In Sioux Falls, I basically just grew up. I couldn’t have done it without the Heineman family and Phil Weber [owners and last season’s head coach of the Skyforce, respectively]. I had a lot of talks with Coach Weber about becoming a man about things, owning up to situations. Sometimes you have to go through adversity to get to that point.
The Heineman family are just amazing people. They did so much for me, just made it easy for me. They don’t know how much they’ve helped me in my career. I had some issues with anger management and they went out of their way to help me, introducing me to some people that I could go and talk to even if it wasn’t basketball-related.
Everybody thought I wasn’t going to be able to make it back to the NBA; I wasn’t this, I wasn’t that. Coming from where I came from, and then getting to that point — to where I was with the Heat — it was crazy. That’s why I was so emotional that day in Orlando.
I’ve been through so much, but I’m not the type of guy who looks back and asks, “What if?” I deal in reality. When I do look back, I see a young kid who just didn’t have a focus, really. I don’t know what would have happened to that kid. But I know that I’m a way better player and person now than I was back then. I just don’t dunk as much.