SEMINOLE — Whether cajoling, celebrating, raging or fuming, Seminole High School boys basketball coach Josh Walker always wears his emotions in plain sight.
From the sideline, Walker claps and shouts encouragement, his eyes intense. As his players swirl around on the court, Walker bobs and gesticulates, seemingly shadowing their moves from afar.
The team’s style mimics their coach. They are relentless on defense, voracious on the boards and wring every ounce of energy out of themselves on the court.
Most of all, the Warhawks (14-3 entering the week) win. That has a lot to do with Walker, a bold yet personable motivator who shook the program from its doldrums when he returned to his alma mater to take over as the school’s coach in 2009. Walker has guided Seminole to three straight playoff appearances and the only two postseason wins in school history.
“I’ve always been cognizant of the history here,” Walker said. “We’re starting to have some success, but I’m always trying to get better.”
Walker grew up with the basketball program and the Seminole community. His father, Terry, now retired, taught at Seminole Middle School for 35 years, and was a longtime assistant and head coach of the Warhawks for two seasons (2001-02). Walker played for Seminole from 1994-97 under Bill Killalea, now the athletic director at the school.
“Josh brought it every day to practice,” Killalea said. “He was one of the hardest workers I ever had. Always a great attitude, work ethic and just a thirst to learn everything he can about the game. He made himself a very good basketball player. “
After graduating from Seminole, Walker went on to play at Division III North Carolina Wesleyan. He returned to Pinellas County to coach at Dunedin (2002-07) and Osceola (2007).
But Seminole, with its strong community ties, has a gravitational pull on those who played there. Walker decided to return as an assistant before becoming the Warhawks’ coach in 2009.
“This is kind of a special place because it’s one of the few schools in the county that has such strong community involvement,” Walker said. “The elementary, middle and high school are all across the street from one another. Most kids grew up with each other, so there’s a good bond.”
Walker knew the only way he could transform Seminole into a consistent winner was through a commitment to hard work. He held two, sometimes three practices a day in the summer, often starting at 7 a.m. in the weight room.
“We basically are playing all-year which is what good teams do,” said senior guard Marco Behori, the team’s leading scorer. “When I walked through the doors four years ago, Coach told us that in order to get minutes on the court you were going to have to show how hard you were willing to work to earn it.
“You want to play for a coach like that who’s dedicated to the program and trying to make you better.”
Walker also worked the hallways to amp up student support. There was a student section, dubbed the Wet Zone. Now it is called the Splash Zone and is one of the most fervent in the county. Walker encouraged the fan section to sit in the corner of the bleachers behind the home team’s bench.
“We probably spend around $5,000 to 6,000 on our fans through T-shirts, prizes, food, buses,” Walker said. “They’re worth it. They bring a lot of energy and make this the place to be in basketball.”
Another thing Walker added is the Keith MacCollom Shootout, to be held this weekend and named in honor of the former student-athlete who died in a car accident with three classmates April 10, 2009.
The intense practices and added touches did not translate into playoff appearances right away. After hovering around .500 for two season, the Warhawks finally had a breakthrough in the 2012-13 season when they made the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and won the school’s first postseason game.
Now, playoff appearances seem ordinary.
“I knew when Josh applied to become coach he would be a great fit,” Killalea said. “He’s done a great job of promoting the program. The excitement level now is at a frenzied pitch. He’s exactly what we needed around here.”
Contact Bob Putnam at [email protected] Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.