Walker's cool has T. Catholic heating up

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

February 13, 2007|By MILTON KENT

Five minutes after a game is over, the words come tumbling from Towson Catholic senior Candice Walker in a relentless stream, and her hands are moving about as quickly to make one point after another.

The funny thing is, not 10 minutes before, Walker, the Owls' point guard, was the essence of calm and cool, slowing the tempo and controlling the situation.

"I just know how to settle down and to settle everybody down," said Walker, after Saturday's win over National Christian Academy of Fort Washington. "That's what I try to do all the time during the game. Sometimes, when we play at a fast speed, that's when we mess up. When we slow it down and I control the team, that's when we win."

It's a formula that has worked for the Owls, 18-6 and ranked second, as they host St. Paul's today in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference tournament.

Walker, who averages 15 points and eight assists, has been the steadying, calming influence on the Owls, which is what she had in mind during the summer when she would start her day at 8 a.m. and work on her game. Walker said she put particular emphasis on her shot, taking at least 100 jumpers a day.

The extensive summer work sounds, at face value, like a reasonable explanation for her improvement from last season, when Walker averaged 10 points a game, but her coach, Matt Fisher, doesn't buy it. For Fisher, Walker's improvement correlates perfectly with her development, as a person and as a basketball player.

"It has to do with maturity and a lot of growth in her game," Fisher said. "She's matured. She's not as emotional as she was last year. That was the main problem last year: her maturity. She's shown tremendous growth and maturity and that's just carried over to her game."

Fisher speaks bluntly about Walker's immaturity last season, saying that he had to employ "tough love" on more than one occasion, sitting her down on the bench next to him.

"She came back ready this year, ready to embrace what she needed to do to be a leader on this team," Fisher said. "She's almost exceeded expectations this year. She talks about this summer, but that's just growth and that tough love last year. I was ready to give it to her again this year, but she came in and she's been ready to play."

Walker, who had 12 points in Saturday's 57-50 unexpectedly close home win over National Christian Academy, has established herself as a viable second option to do-it-all guard Marah Strickland, who transferred to Towson Catholic last season.

Not every player would be comfortable playing Dyna Girl to Strickland's Electra Woman (parents tell your teenagers to check Wikipedia), but Walker's maturity boost has given her the ability to accept her role as the Owls' No. 2.

"I feed off that [the attention paid to Strickland] because I know she can't do it all by herself, so I have to step up as a senior," Walker said. "That's what I've done this year. I'm a senior and I want a championship."

Said Fisher: "She has a lot of control over what we do as a team. She's the point guard. It was just getting her to understand what her role is on this team, that's as a floor general. She embraced that, and she's like an assistant coach on the floor. The first thing was learning to play with Marah and being a coach on the floor and she's done that."

Walker has signed to play with Loyola next year, and it will be interesting to watch her adapt and learn the pace and rhythms of the college game, to learn to find the slow lane, when the inclination might be to go fast.

"It's not that hard [to be calm]," Walker said. "As a point guard, I have to make smart decisions. If I don't have the energy, then my team doesn't have the energy. I direct the team basically as a point guard."

We'll see soon enough if she can direct the Owls to an IAAM title.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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