Navy finds little goes a long way

November 09, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

When Don DeVoe was named Navy basketball coach two years ago, he gave his assistant coaches explicit recruiting instructions:

"I told them don't bring back any point guards under 6 feet," he said.

Doug Wojcik did not listen.

"Doug kept pestering me about this little guard named Brian Walker, who was playing for Marion High in Indiana," said DeVoe, who had just finished 8-19 during his first season in Annapolis.

"He told me, 'This kid is only 5 feet 8, but he can do everything you want in a point guard.' And if we didn't get him, either Army or Air Force was ready to grab him."

But DeVoe had to see for himself.

"It was during the Indiana high school tournament qualifying round in the winter of 1992," he said. "Marion was playing Kokomo, and Walker did everything possible to help his team win, but Kokomo won.

"But the thing that impressed me most was his poise, and how he kept things in perspective after a tough loss. He was really concerned about his future in college."

Walker, who also made recruiting trips to the Air Force Academy, West Point and the University of Tulsa, joined DeVoe in Annapolis last season and proved the catalyst in a surprising 17-14 season that included a Patriot League title and a trip to the NCAA tournament, where the Mids lost to Missouri.

"When I first got to start, I was a little undecided about what my role was supposed to be," said Walker. "But after two or three games, I got my confidence and decided it was up to me to make things happen."

With Walker now firmly in control and complemented by eight other returnees, Navy finds itself in the rare role of a favorite to repeat as conference champion.

"Brian was probably the single biggest reason for our turnaround," said DeVoe. "He gave us a dimension we were lacking -- a penetrating guard. He has the rare ability to make everyone around him better."

DeVoe still had his doubts early last season about entrusting his offense to an undersized plebe. Walker spent the first half of the season bouncing between the junior varsity and riding the varsity bench while Scott Holden and Randy Torgrimson shared the point.

But in mid-January, with his team last in the Patriot League and saddled with a 5-10 record, DeVoe decided to test Walker. From there, the Midshipmen won 12 of their last 16 games, including a seven-game winning streak that carried them through the conference tournament.

Walker, who averaged 8.7 points over the last 10 games, was the first freshman to be named to the Patriot League's all-tournament team. He has exceptional speed and leaping ability, with a 31-inch vertical jump.

During an informal workout last summer, he shattered a backboard at Halsey Field House on a dunk.

"I told Brian I wanted him to concentrate on improving his outside shot," DeVoe said with a laugh.

But DeVoe has much to be upbeat about this season. His experienced squad has excellent balance and depth at every position.

Alex Kohnen, Larry Green and Wes Cooper are capable of scoring inside, helped by Walker's quick penetration, while Jimmy Hamilton and T. J. Hall keep defenders honest with their three-point shooting.

"All these guys are capable of scoring 15 points or more in a game," said DeVoe. "Kohnen may be slow as molasses, but at 6-11 and with his shooting touch, he could be a force in the Patriot League."

Hall, an aggressive 6-3 senior who averaged 13.7 points, and Hamilton, a 6-4 junior who averaged 11.2, were the most consistent scorers in Navy's dramatic stretch run.

"Nobody works harder than T. J. at becoming better," said DeVoe. "He went from playing on our jayvees to becoming one of the best in our league."

Hamilton won several games with his long-range shooting.

"I've worked hard in the off-season on getting to the hoop," said Hamilton. "If I show them I can drive, it's really going to open things up."

DeVoe checks his roster and says, "I feel very comfortable with this team. Our veterans gained a lot of confidence last year. Now we have to prove it was no fluke. We've got to build on that momentum."

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