30 years and NBA career later, Walker earns diploma

By: Bob Holt
Published: Thursday, December 20, 2012
NWA Media/MICHAEL WOODS --12/15/2012-- Former University of Arkansas basketball player Darrell Walker, right, who played with the Razorbacks from 1980-83 is accompanied by former University of Arkansas basketball coach Eddie Sutton who coached at Arkansas from 1974-1985, as they participate in the fall commencement ceremony at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville on Saturday morning. Sutton had the honor of presenting Walker with his degree. Over 800 undergraduate, graduate and law students who completed their studies during the summer or fall semesters will took part in the commencement ceremony.
Photo by Michael Woods
NWA Media/MICHAEL WOODS --12/15/2012-- Former University of Arkansas basketball player Darrell Walker, right, who played with the Razorbacks from 1980-83 is accompanied by former University of Arkansas basketball coach Eddie Sutton who coached at Arkansas from 1974-1985, as they participate in the fall commencement ceremony at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville on Saturday morning. Sutton had the honor of presenting Walker with his degree. Over 800 undergraduate, graduate and law students who completed their studies during the summer or fall semesters will took part in the commencement ceremony.

— Darrell Walker and Eddie Sutton teamed up for another victory in Barnhill Arena, 30 seasons after they last were together with the Arkansas Razorbacks.

With Walker playing guard and Sutton coaching him, the Razorbacks basketball team went a combined 32-2 in Barnhill Arena for three seasons (1980-1981 through 1982-1983).

“Barnhill was a magical place,” Walker said. “Playing here was a special time in my life.”

Walker, an All-American for the Razorbacks, heard plenty of cheers in BarnhillArena for his steals and dunks. But his latest magical moment that had the crowd applauding came Saturday when he graduated with a bachelor’s of education degree in human resource management. Sutton, at Walker’s request, was on the stage with him to present the diploma.

“It’s been a long journey,” said Walker, an assistant coach with the New York Knicks who makes his off-season home in Little Rock. “Tograduate in Barnhill Arena, with Coach Sutton, it’s like somebody just drew a full circle. It feels good.

“Hopefully, I made a bunch of people in the state of Arkansas proud. A bunch of alumni really wanted me to come back and get my degree, and more than that, hopefully other U of A athletes who have not finished school can see you still have time to go ahead and finish it.”

Walker, 51, worked to finish his degree for several years taking online classes. It wasn’t easy for someone who has worked in the NBA as a player, coach and director of player personnel since leaving Arkansas.

“I think Coach Sutton was happier about me getting my degree than I was,” Walker said. “He’s ecstatic.”

Sutton said he, his wife, Patsy, and Walker’s wife, Lisa, “triple-teamed Darrell” over the years about getting his degree.

“I’m so proud of him for having the desire and discipline to finish his degree, because it’s hard to go back to college when you’ve beengone for a while,” Sutton said. “I don’t think there are too many schools where guys go and play in the NBA for a long time and then come back and finish their degrees, especially if they’re coaching like Darrell is now, so that makes what he’s done even more impressive.”

Walker, an NBA head coach with Toronto (1996-1998) and Washington (2000 as interim), said having a degree gives him the option of pursuing a college coaching job.

“It’s always been in the back of my mind about coaching in college,” Walker said. “I think I could be a good college coach.”

Sutton said the two often “butted heads” when Walker arrived at Arkansas from Westark Community College, now Arkansas-Fort Smith.Walker grew up in Chicago in a tough neighborhood.

“The situation I came from was different than most students, so Coach Sutton was tough on me,” Walker said. “But he was always in my corner.”

Sutton said he knew Walker “was a good kid” who needed direction, especially when it came to going to class. Sutton recalled that James Dickey, the Houston coach who 30 seasons ago was an Arkansas assistant, used to pick up Walker at 5 a.m. and drive him five miles out of town.

“Darrell was a member of our five-and-five club for missing classes,” Sutton said. “After he ran the five miles back to campus, James would walk him to class to make sure he got there. That eventually worked with Darrell. He caught on and realized he had to go to class.”

Phil Gerke, a UA academic advisor and coordinator whohelps older students complete their degrees online, worked with Walker in recent years.

“I admire him greatly for finishing his degree, because he’s used to being in a position of authority as a coach, but he allowed himself to come down from that lofty perch and become a student again,” Gerke said. “There were times I’d say, ‘This and this and thisneeds to be done,’ and at first he kind of rebelled. But then he accepted it and did the assignments, everything he was required to do.”

John E. King, a retired UA social work professor, was Walker’s academic advisor 30 years ago and continued to offer him encouragement.

“When Darrell was here in the 1980s, he wanted to be a pro basketball player and he had the tools to do it, and he succeeded mightily,” King said. “But I think having his degree now gives him a tremendous sense of accomplishment.”

Lisa Walker, a former Arkansas sprinter who graduated from UALR with a liberal arts degree, said there were frustrating times for her husband trying to juggle work, family and academic obligations.

“In the beginning, I’m telling you, there were times Darrell and I wouldn’t even be talking because he’d be frustrated, and I got frustrated with him,” Lisa Walker said. “It was a trying time because there were so many demands on him. But he had the persistence to stick with it and get it done, so to me, graduating ranks No. 1 with all the great things he did in Barnhill. It’s the icing on the cake.”

Knicks Coach Mike Woodson gave Walker permission to miss New York’s game against Cleveland last Saturday night - the Knicks won 103-102 - so he could go through the graduation ceremony.

“I talked to Coach Woodson about this a long time ago, and he thought I should go,” Walker said. “He said, ‘You only get to do it one time.’

“It’s been humbling. I’m counting my blessings. My family is healthy, I’m healthy, the Knicks are playing well, and I feel good about what I’ve accomplished.”

Sports, Pages 17 on 12/20/2012

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