Walker Ready For His Next Challenge

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By Jim McGill, Staff Writer
Posted May 4, 2017
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2017 BearInsider.com


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Men's basketball assistant coach Chris Walker
Cal men's basketball assistant coach Chris Walker may be new on staff with the Golden Bears but he's no stranger to Berkeley.

Walker, who visited the Bay Area periodically to see his aunt in Richmond also paid a visit to Harmon Arena in 1988 as a freshman point guard for Villanova, with the Wildcats falling to Cal in a 73-71 Bear victory.

Walker finished his career at Villanova ranked fourth in steals and seventh in assists all-time for the Wildcats after coming in as a Converse All-American prep.

Walker also coached in the Bay Area frequently, playing St. Mary's, USF and Santa Clara several times a season while coaching at Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine.

His first connection with new Cal head coach Wyking Jones came early in both men's careers.

"I was his college coach for his first three seasons at Loyola Marymount," said Walker. "I was still relatively young, as a GA/restricted earnings coach after moving out there after my senior year.

"His head coach there was my coach as an assistant at Villanova, then he became a head coach over at Loyola Marymount, so that's how Wyking and I met."

Even when Jones was just a collegiate player, Walker saw the seeds that would one day blossom into a head coach by the characteristics that Jones displayed as a young athlete.

"He was a competitor from the beginning," said Walker. "Back then, we took a program that was at the bottom of the league and by the time Wyking left, we were playing for 2nd place or championships so he was part of a building process that gave him the roots for some of the stuff he's done in his career.

"He was always a disciplined player. Always focused, always worked hard."

Now, some 24 years later, Jones displays the same competitiveness and tenacity he displayed as a collegiate player, just in different ways.

"He's still in great shape now. He probably still thinks he could play since he's so competitive," said Walker, with a smile. "Those things were building blocks for who he is today, so it doesn't surprise me that's he's a head coach now."

Walker's arrival at Cal puts him back in the profession he loves after spending several years in broadcasting and as a consultant with Under Armour. He feels his breadth of experience will serve him well in his latest opportunity to work with collegiate athletes, starting with taking the best of several high-level coaches he's worked with over his career.

"I've learned something different from every one of them," said Walker of the head coaches he's worked with. "Some of them have some similarities.

"With Jay Wright (2-time National Coach of the Year at Villanova), I learned how to build a program and that every detail matters and culture matters. It's not necessarily the case that the team with the best talent wins. Sometimes the teams with the best culture and some talent win.

"Steve Alford's just a meticulous guy, dealing with media and player personalities.

"I went with Steve when he first went to New Mexico and Wyking replaced me when I went to Villanova (in 2009).

"I brought probably eight players from Texas to New Mexico to establish a foundation there when I was there.

"It's funny how it worked. I brought all the Texas players. Then I left and Wyking brought in all the California players. Then he left and the next guy came in and brought in all the Australian players."

Prior to Walker and Alford's arrival at New Mexico in 2007, the program had gone 32-30 in the prior two seasons. In Walker's two seasons there, the Lobo's went 46-21. And in the next two seasons under Alford and Jones when Walker made the move to Villanova, UNM went 52-18.

"We became a dominant program in that conference during that time frame," said Walker. "Understanding that recruiting is the life blood of a program. You have to have players. You have to have a solid foundation of recruiting if you want to have a successful program, especially if you want to win at a high level."

When Jones' hiring was announced, several returning players expressed their admiration for the new head coach's attention to detail and meticulous game preparation -something Walker is not surprised about in the least.

"He did work with Rick Pitino, where intense preparation is just demanded of you," said Walker. "Same thing with Steve Alford.

"Doing television for four years with CBS, I got to see a lot of staffs and a lot of coaches. Sometimes you see an engine that won't work and sometimes you see a coach where you think, 'That's going to be a great running machine. You go to practice and see a guy like Wyking and think, 'Wow, that guy is polished.' Then you see another assistant another time and think, 'What's going on there?'

"With the tree he's under, there's no wonder with him being smart like he is that he picked it up like he has and embraced it. Now the rest is history and he's in this position now."

After spending the first 20 years of his career as an assistant coach, Walker moved from associate head coach his first season at Texas Tech to interim head coach the next season in 2012.

"It was a great experience," said Walker. "It taught me a lot.

"I remember when I first got to Tech, Jay Wright called me and he knew I had tremendous confidence having worked for him. He said, 'Look, don't go in there and try to be John Wooden. The best thing you can do is go in there and show them your ability to lead.'

"So one of the things I prided myself on was culture. I had to learn how to build a program in an adverse situation. It was pretty tumultuous walking into that situation. And it's pretty difficult running a program if you don't have security."

Walker walked into a difficult situation at Texas Tech, to say the least.

Amidst allegations of harsh treatment from previous head coach Billy Gillispie and a paltry 1-17 Big 12 record, the Red Raiders saw an unprecedented 15 players to transfer during his 18-month tenure there, so the cupboard was far from well-stocked when Walker took over in his season as interim head coach in 2012-13.

"I think we did a good job there and made the job respectable enough for Tubby Smith (then a hot commodity at Minnesota) to want it," said Walker. "The record wasn't great, as was to be expected, but there were some good things we did. And I had a chance to coach against coaches like Bill Self and Bobby Huggins. So it was a great experience for me. And I never would've been on CBS had I not been a head coach at Texas Tech."

So no regrets from Walker on his stint as interim head coach, no matter what the circumstances were.

"When you're an assistant coach for a long time, you're waiting on that chance to be a head coach and preparing for that day, just like Wyking has been. How lucky was I that my chance was in the Big-12? Of course, it wasn't under great circumstances but who cares? It was still an awesome opportunity. I'd do it all over again if I had the chance."

In his two seasons at Tech, Walker was responsible for the signing of three Top 150 recruits as recruiting coordinator -no easy task for a program that had struggled for years.

"Recruiting is all about relationships," said Walker. "The stronger your relationship, the better you have a chance to get players.

"It's served me well wherever I've been. The bottom line is, people know who they like and why.

"Summer basketball is where a lot happens and we'll be involved in that a lot but we definitely want to upgrade our profile and to embrace the academic side and not look at it as a negative. No, 'yeah but's.' We want kids who are smart and elite athletes and those kids are out there.

"Relationships run deep and with my associations with Adidas and Nike (and as a prior consultant with Under Armour), and there's a lot of people I've known over the years, as well as people running summer programs.

"The bottom line is we're good guys, we do things the right way and we treat people the right way. People want to be associated with that and parents want to trust their kids to people that will treat them the right way and educate them and have them around other great people and a great university.

"There's nothing wrong with what we have to sell. We've got the number one public university in the country. We have a great area. We've got five professional sports franchises. There's nothing we can't sell here. We've got no excuses not to do well in recruiting.

"I've worked at seven different universities but I'm selling me. We're selling family. So every time you meet someone, it's all about the bigger picture. If you go to a restaurant and the host is rude to you but the server is nice, you're still not going to have a good impression of the restaurant. We're selling the overall package as a unified team.

"You don't get ahead by negative recruiting, either. We have an amazing product to sell. We may sell it a little bit differently than others but it's all about relationships."

Just like his previous coaching stint, Walker is coming into a situation that's less than ideal with only five returning scholarship players, though in contract to Tech's prior struggles, the Bears are coming off a solid 21-13 (10-8) season.

"What some may look at as difficult circumstances, we're looking at it as a challenge we've accepted," said Walker. "It's a blank canvas.

"We're going to get enough players, and the right players, to get to where we need to be. Our goal is to eventually make a Final 4 and win a national championship. It's possible at Cal. What we're not going to do is dwell on what we don't have. That's not going to get it done. Let's get kids who want to be smart and who play great basketball.

"You've got to work hard and you've got to embrace it. You've got to assess your competition, get to know the climate, establish what kind of culture you want.

"We've got great coaches here. You've got TO (assistant coach Tim O'Toole) who's coached a long time and has been around great programs. And Theo (assistant coach Theo Robertson), who's from here and has been with a couple great NBA franchises in the Warriors and Lakers.

"TO and I have similar backgrounds coming from a lot of different places and experiences and he's coached in the Bay Area, with Stanford and Cal. Keeping him and the continuity it brings is great. He knows the lay of the land and his head coaching experience doesn't hurt.

"Theo's great for the fans. I think it's great when former players can come back to their universities and coach. He was a great player here and people respect that. Your staff sells and it says a lot about you as a coach."

Summing up his new situation and the staff that Jones has put together at Cal, Walker is optimistic.

"When you coach for a while under different coaches and with different staffs, you see a lot of things you like and you see a lot of things you'll want to stay away from when you get your chance," said Walker. "You take the best of what you've learned. And Wyking's employing that by who he's brought in on staff. You can't do it by yourself. You have to have guys around you who can help you succeed and do it the right way.

"He's been great to work for. I think the staff is one of the best staffs I've seen."

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