New Head Coach Brings A Whole New Ballgame To Clark Atlanta (734 hits)
By Donnell Suggs
As the buzzer sounded Darrell Walker casually made his way over to the scorer’s table at L.S. Epps Gymnasium and took the microphone. The first-year men’s head basketball coach at Clark Atlanta University had just engineered his Panthers to a 71-66 victory over AUC rival Morehouse College.
“We need you for every game just like this, come on out and see us now,” said Walker before joining his team in a huddle at half court. The Panthers walked off the court victorious and Walker had his first victory over Morehouse College. The two teams will meet again in less than a week, on Thursday, February 13, and the circumstances could not be urgent for Walker and his team.
The Panthers are 14-9 overall and more importantly 8-4 in the SIAC East Division. Two games behind first place Benedict College, a game and a half behind Claflin University and only a half game behind third place Fort Valley State University, Clark Atlanta has to take every game as serious as they do their annual pair of games against Morehouse (currently in fifth place in the seven team SIAC East, two games behind Clark Atlanta).
From this point on Walker’s first season as a college basketball coach is going to anything but smooth, anything but a walk in the park, a simple season of college basketball. Walker has the Panthers playing their best basketball in a decade and by the look of the student section at Epps-where the Panthers are 9-3 thus far this season-during the Morehouse game, the rest of the Atlanta University Center and Atlanta is starting to take notice, also.
The Panthers were in need of a men’s head basketball and Walker was looking to get into college basketball.
“I’ve been trying to get into college coaching for a while,” says the tenured NBA and CBA coach and 10-year NBA veteran. “When this opportunity came open, I applied, and here I am.”
Walker has applied for a number of head coaching positions to no avail. Clark Atlanta University took a chance on Walker and the results have been a 180 degree turn into the HBCU/Division II college basketball fast lane.
“I am having a great time down here at Clark Atlanta,” says Walker. “It’s been fun.”
The SIAC tournament is weeks away in Birmingham, Ala. and the Panthers are expected to make some noise during the week-long affair. The same could not be said last season, the same could not be said if not for Walker and the pro-style offense he brought with him to campus.
Alfred Jordan, Walker’s sole assistant coach, played his college basketball at Clark Atlanta and is enjoying the culture shift and changed expectations on campus. “Since coach Walker has arrived to the program he has completely changed the culture. With his strong professional background, he has quickly grasped the team’s attention and everyone is buying into the new style of basketball that we will put on display this season,” Jordan said.
Part of the change Walker brings to the Panthers is the same thing that was supposed to be a perceived weakness of his. The recruiting at Clark Atlanta has always been focused on the Atlanta area and surrounding Georgia counties, Walker has brought on a number of players from outside of the Peach State. Freshman guard Micquel Robinson comes to the program from Evanston, Illinois, fellow newcomers Anthony Yarborough and Mark Burton, Jr. make their way to Clark Atlanta from Memphis, Tennessee and Layton, Utah, respectively.
“Coach’s down to earth personality has also helped him gain a great individual relationship with each of the players on the team,” Jordan said. “There’s something special about HBCU basketball and we want to build something special here at Clark Atlanta,” Walker said. “I’ve got some New York, Memphis and Atlanta flavor on the team and they are a good group of guys that work.”
Returning seniors, Atlanta native Derek Harper (11.0 points per game last season), Lawrence Triplett (9.3 points per game and 5.6 rebounds) and returning leading scorer Tim Sanders (14.0 points per game) are all back and Walker believes the team will be better for it.
“The players that are still around are good kids and deserve to be around,” Walker said.
With six regular season games remaining in his first year at the helm, Walker has already surpassed expectations for the Panthers. “Our identity is going to be hard-hitting, and defensively trying to get after opponents in order to get out in transition,” he said.
The Panthers have won five games by more than 10 points this season while averaging 76.3 points per game, shooting .334 percent from behind the three-point arc and grabbing 7.4 steals per game. All of the numbers are up from last season including having five players average over 10 points per game (a sixth, junior guard Anthony Williams is averaging 9.2).
Jordan played his college basketball at Clark Atlanta and is red and black through and through. The good old days of Panther basketball are back and he more than anyone else knows how good it feels to have a winning basketball team back at L.S. Epps on a Saturday night.
A new era of Panther basketball is making its way through the SIAC and the AUC. “Since coach Walker has arrived, he has completely changed the culture,” said Jordan. “With his strong professional background, he has quickly grasped the team’s attention and everyone is buying into the new style of basketball.”
“There’s something special about HBCU basketball, and we want to build something special here at Clark Atlanta,” Walker said.
Photo: Darrell Walker
Walker at the inaugural Darrell Walker Art and Basketball Fundraiser, winter 2016. Walker has made an immediate impact on CAU basketball and the culture surrounding it. Photo credit: Clark Atlanta University