SHARONVILLE – Street credibility resonates with players. Not many carry the credentials of Princeton High School’s new varsity boys basketball coach, Jamal Walker.
Walker played point guard for Xavier University from 1987 to 1991 under Pete Gillen, helping the XU to its first-ever NCAA Sweet 16 appearance after the Musketeers knocked off a Georgetown University team featuring future NBA stars Dikembe Mutumbo and Alonzo Mourning.
He may be best known locally for his game-winning shot in the 1990 Crosstown Shootout against the University of Cincinnati his junior year. It gave XU a 90-88 victory and denied Bob Huggins a win in his first try in the storied rivalry.
Walker had some NBA looks, but spent most of his professional playing career in the Continental Basketball Association and overseas. Walker was elected to the XU hall of fame in 2003.
“He talks about that with his guys,” Princeton athletic director Gary Croley said. “He knows what it takes to play at the next level and he’ll help guys get there.”
Walker spent 14 years as athletic director at Woodward High School before starting work at Princeton last school year. The Springdale resident’s 12-year-old son – also named Jamal – will begin in Princeton Middle School and the elder Walker wanted to be around his boy.
“People have told me they felt like I’ve been here 10 or 15 years already,” he said. “I have been in the neighborhood, the rec centers, the AAU games. But I’m glad to have a chance to be the head coach at the high school now.”
The Vikings finished 3-17 overall last season and tied for last in the Greater Miami Conference with Colerain at 2-12 in the league.
“I know these kids (he was the JV coach last season) and I know what we can do,” Walker said. “It’s a tough league. I used to think it was tough in the PSL because we played back-to-back Friday and Saturday. Here you play Tuesday and Friday, but everybody you play is in the top 10.
“We’re going to turn it around because we’re going to be tough and we’re going to hold kids responsible for themselves and each other. It’s going to be a college-type atmosphere the way we do things – academics first and athletics next.
“If you can work hard in the classroom, that’s going to translate on the court. And if you work hard on the court, that’s going to translate to a better program.”
Walker grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., and plans to bring some of the Big Apple street-ball swagger to the Vikings.
“I think we’re talking about toughness when you talk about street ball,” Walker said. “If you lose up there, you might not get back on the court for 10 more games, so you don’t want to lose. You play as hard as you can to stay on the court.”
“Practice is going to be harder than the games. The games are going to be the easy part, and that makes the games a lot more fun. Other teams should not want to come in here and play us. That’s what we’re going for.”
Walker remains the public address voice of the City Gear summer basketball league featuring area college players and alumni from XU, UC, Miami University and Northern Kentucky University. Summer league playoffs begin July 26 with the championship set for Aug. 1 at Woodward.