After having a solid senior basketball season, Austin Walkers’ compass is pointed towards Oskaloosa.
Walker, who ranked second on the Ottumwa basketball team in scoring, will continue his basketball career at William Penn University in Oskaloosa. He is set to sign with the Statesmen on Friday.
“I worked out with the coaching staff over the summer and it felt like home to me,” Walker said.
The Bulldog forward provided his team with a steady supply of points, steals and leadership in his senior campaign. His leadership and unwavering perseverance revealed itself after some games when, just 20 minutes removed from a loss, Walker — along with sophomore teammate Carter Burns — could be found practicing their shots at the Evans Middle School basketball court as the remnants of what that night’s crowd had left behind was being picked up.
Hard work is Walker’s modus operandi. Former Ottumwa boys coach Chris Gravett said the Bulldog forward spent a lot of time honing his skills in the offseason. Some of this extra time was spent in Oskaloosa working out with some of William Penn’s players, the coach said.
Walker more than doubled his scoring average from the previous season, going from about four to 10 points a game.
“I definitely think my hard work in the offseason paid off this year and I’m going to continue to prepare for next season,” Walker said.
He said he will work to gain more confidence in his shot in the offseason. In addition, Walker also will focus on increasing his quickness and strength.
Walker played an important role in Ottumwa’s two victories this season, pouring in 19 points in the Bulldogs 70-67 overtime victory over Fairfield and compiling 13 points in the Bulldogs 63-61 double-overtime triumph over Des Moines East. Walker also posted 19 points in a loss to West Des Moines Valley.
Walker’s showed consistent improvement throughout the season. In the first few weeks of the season it wasn’t uncommon for Walker to only three points in game, but towards the ends of the season he regularly posted scores in the lower and upper teens. A key intangible to his success is his ability to score from anywhere on the court. Walker sticks in put-backs off rebounds; drills mid-range jumpers, whether they be set shots or shots off the dribble; finishes fast breaks; and buries 3-pointers. He trails only Burns in shots made from beyond the arc with 22 on the year. He would have been Ottumwa’s 3-point leader if Burns hadn’t put on a 3-point clinic — the sophomore Bulldog finished with a season-high 33 points and six 3-pointers — in what turned out to be the Bulldogs final game against Cedar Rapids Jefferson in the regional quarterfinals of the Class 4A Substate Tournament.
Walker also was at the vanguard of much of Ottumwa’s defensive success. He had a knack for stealing passes that initially looked risk-free. Walker used this knack to accumulate a team-high 20 steals this season. The Bulldog also grabbed about five rebounds a game and dished out 21 assists.
Walker will join a Statesmen team that is currently in the midst of an incredible season. The NAIA Division II team boasts a stupendous 30-1 record, which has netted it a No. 1 ranking in the nation.
“I wanted to play for a good team and compete for a national championship and with them as No. 1 I think it’s possible,” Walker said.
The Statesmen, who ascended to the top spot three weeks ago, are a perfect 12-0 in the Midwest Collegiate Conference along with being the conference tournament champions. William Penn hopes to cap off its season with a successful run in the NAIA Division II National Tournament in Point Lookout, Mo.
With six Statesmen graduating after the season, Walker hopes to play well enough to play for the varsity team.