WALKER -- LSU basketball coach Will Wade had a confession to make to Walker’s basketball team and members of Walker’s Club Outreach that hosted him Tuesday for a speaking engagement.
After spending a full day of scouting at Barton Coliseum, Wade admitted to leaving with the Wildcats trailing Landry-Walker by seven points in the last 1 minute, 20 seconds of the Class 5A state championship game.
“I had been there all day since the 9:30 games that morning,” Wade explained. “We had to get back and prepare for the NIT. It didn’t look good.”
Wade wasn’t around to witness Walker’s historic comeback, which resulted in a 62-57 victory and the program’s first state championship. Wade said he was kept aware of the Wildcats’ developments via text messages from a coaching friend in the arena.
“He texted me, ‘they’re coming back. They’re coming back’,” Wade said with a smile. “I wasn’t as committed to you guys as I should have been. I should have believed in you a little bit more.”
The herculean comeback that brought the school its first state crown in any boys’ sport has served as a galvanizing force for a community that was well represented the night Walker basketball made history.
Since then the Wildcats have enjoyed the spoils of victory.
That began with a community parade and has since included recognition from the City of Walker, the Louisiana House of Representatives and the Livingston Parish School Board.
“I didn’t imagine the whirlwind’s it’s been, the support,” said Walker coach Anthony Schiro, also a graduate of the school. “We knew people would understand it’s the first state championship ever. It’s a big deal. I didn’t know it would be this big of a deal. The support, the events and speaking engagements. It’s humbling.”
The overwhelming support displayed by the community during Walker’s two state tournament victories over Natchitoches Central and Landry-Walker gave sophomore guard Jalen Cook a pretty good indication of the weight of the moment.
“When I saw everyone in Lake Charles, I knew it was going to mean a lot,” Cook said. “Winning it all, I knew it would come with extra stuff and it’s been steady rolling. When you win the first state championship, and everyone’s been watching for a long time, they get really excited.”
Wade was on hand to help Club Outreach become the latest local entity to honor Walker’s state championship team.
The Tigers’ second-year coach congratulated the Wildcats on a job well done and challenged the entire team to avoid the pitfalls associated with success.
“It’s impossible to move forward if you’re looking down when people are tearing you down,” Wade said. “That’s the world we live in. Put your head up and walk straight. Stay positive, look forward and go chase what you want. Go attack what you want. Stay locked in and you can do anything you want to do.”
Walker’s final 80 seconds of regulation, coupled with its work in 5-minute overtime, capped a memorable season that included a school-record tying 33 wins in 37 games.
The core of the Wildcats success included a veteran group of seven seniors that had literally grown up playing basketball together since they were 6-7-year-olds.
Three of those members achieved the rare distinction of scoring at least 1,000 career points with guard Dalton Moore (1,307) center Jalen Perkins (1,068) and guard Darius Hampton (1,012) all reaching that milestone.
They were at the heart of a touching moment when Walker assistant coach Eric Cook, who helped coach the majority of the aforementioned group of players to a Biddy Basketball national runners-up finish, choked back tears when describing they’re time together.
“We’ve been a part of each other for a long time,” Cook said. “They’re a special group of kids.”
Walker was also bolstered by the special talents of a pair of underclassmen in Josh Cook, the two-time parish MVP, and freshman Brian Thomas.
Cook also cracked the 1,000-point plateau with 1,141 points through two seasons, while Thomas was also instrumental in his first season with 20 points in the state final to earn MVP honors.
“I knew a long time ago I had a special group of young men long before they came to campus,” Schiro said. “They were committed to doing the things we asked them to do on a daily basis.”
Schiro pointed to his team’s resiliency that took place after a four-point win over Class 3A state champion Madison Prep Academy that was part of a taxing week of play. Walker responded to consecutive losses to Division III state semifinalist Riverside Academy and Division I state champion Scotlandville with 10 straight wins, 9 by double-digits until the state championship game.
The Wildcats needed one finishing kick in order to do so, relying on full-court pressure to produce six turnovers. That helped to spark an improbable 9-1 surge that Thomas capped with three free throws to force overtime where four different players combined to score nine points and secure the victory.
“The first boys team to win a state championship in any sport,” Schiro said to his squad before they received framed team photos as gifts. “That’s going to be your legacy at Walker High School.”