One bad bounce and then hundreds of good ones for Providence basketball star Wyatt Walker
Area’s top player used a painful miss as a freshman to launch a career of success
Wyatt Walker let it bother him for a few months.
People asked him about it relentlessly, and he understood why they did.
If Walker was going to be remembered for anything during his basketball career at Providence, a missed layup was not going to be it. The Times-Union’s All-First Coast boys basketball player had other plans.
Why not bury that one play so far underneath three years worth of better ones that it only comes up when Walker talks about how much he learned from it.
Four consecutive state final four berths and two titles, the last of which came this year with a confident Walker averaging 18.1 points and 11.5 rebounds per game as the face of the Stallions.
“Every single year, the goal was to get back to Lakeland and win a championship. I didn’t want to be remembered for that one play,” said Walker, who is headed to college at Princeton. “I was fortunate. The summer after that I put so much work in. Since then, I’ve got two state titles. That was always my goal. That was a big play, I’ll never forget it. I didn’t dwell on it after a few months. It was a dumb mistake, but I’m sort of glad it happened.”
The introduction many fans got to Walker, a 6-foot-8 center, wasn’t as the dominant force he developed into. It was on a breakaway play in the 2012 Class 3A state semifinals against Tampa Prep.
Fifty-five seconds to play. Providence leading by three. The state’s top-ranked team on the ropes and a freshman Walker ready to deliver the haymaker to end it. Walker, alone on the other side of the court, got the ball on a long pass from Grayson Allen.
It was a no-brainer. A tap-in in golf. He took the pass in stride at the free-throw line, dribbled and then had a split second to decide how to finish the play. It felt like a dunk kind-of-moment. Walker thought that, too, but hesitated and changed his mind.
He rimmed out a layup.
Tampa Prep sent the game into overtime and won. Walker was crushed.
“I lost a lot of nights of sleep on that one play,” Walker said. “That year, we had Tyler Martin and Cam Naylor, two seniors who led us there, and that’s what I probably regretted the most about that one play. That they didn’t get [to move on].”
Walker did, and became one of the most galvanizing players in coach Jim Martin’s tenure, a rock in the center of the court and a leader off it.
“Sometimes, it comes back to one play, and that’s not fair to anybody. You can’t put yourself in that situation for it to come down to one play,” Martin said. “I think he let it go. As players, it’s just one play [in a career]. You move on from one play. He used it to his advantage to know you can’t put yourself in that situation where it comes down to just one play.”
The Stallions returned to the state tournament the following season and won the Class 3A state title. They reached the semis in 2014, a season that was supposed to be the last hurrah for Providence.
Walker said that he took it personally when he heard talk about Providence dropping off with the graduation losses of Allen and Christian Terrell. The Stallions might not have had the big-name guards this season, but that wasn’t a problem. Providence leaned on its big three — Walker and forwards Jason Burnell and LaDarien Griffin.
The result of Providence’s down year: the Class 3A state championship, a 31-1 record and a top 25 national ranking. Martin said the team took Walker’s lead, the tough, gritty, physical aspects of it, and listened when he spoke.
“Wyatt has seen it all. He’s mentoring the other players, telling them what to expect,” Martin said. “We’re going to be on runs. They’re going to be on runs. We’ve just got to minimize that, just be smart, don’t get up too high, stay the course. … We weren’t rattled at all, and a lot of came from the fact that Wyatt’s such a steady force. He’s really going to be missed. He’s that guy who will step up in any situation.”