'Home' coming: UALR where I want to be, new coach Darrell Walker says

By: Brooks Kubena
Published: Saturday, March 31, 2018
Darrell Walker speaks Friday, March 30, 2018, after he was officially introduced as head coach at Arkansas-Little Rock.
Darrell Walker speaks Friday, March 30, 2018, after he was officially introduced as head coach at Arkansas-Little Rock.

Darrell Walker was introduced Friday morning as the next head men's basketball coach at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Walker, who signed a four-year, $275,000 per year contract Tuesday, donned a Trojans hat before a crowded room at the Jack Stephens Center.

"This is home," he said.

The introduction concluded a nearly 20-year journey for Walker, who said he first inquired about the UALR job after he was replaced as the head coach of the Washington Wizards after coaching them for 38 games in 2000.

Walker was told he needed a college degree, and he earned his bachelor's degree in human resource management from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville in 2012.

Walker was among five finalists for the Trojans job in April 2015, when former coach Chris Beard was hired, and Walker was told he needed college coaching experience.

Walker went 45-18 in two seasons as the head coach at Clark Atlanta University, which had gone 16-41 in the two seasons before Walker. The Panthers finished their season March 10 in a 72-61 loss to Claflin in the first round of the NCAA Division II Tournament.

The criteria had been met.

"I wanted to come home," Walker said. "I let it be known that I wanted to come home. I went and paid my dues. Went and got my degree. [I'm] a winning coach. I won. I wanted to be here."

Walker's words were met with frequent applause, which partially represented the public favor Walker received during UALR's coaching search.

A former University of Arkansas, Fayetteville All-American guard, Walker said he has had a home in Little Rock since he started his 10-year NBA playing career with the New York Knicks in 1983.

"He's a household name in the state of Arkansas," said UALR Athletic Director Chasse Conque, who said Walker's last two years at Clark Atlanta were a key factor in the decision. "All of those things are what led to the decision. At the end of the day, it's about winning ball games."

"We knew ahead of time that this is a very popular hire, and that made this decision a little easier," UALR Chancellor Andrew Rogerson said. "And then to see it actually come to fruition here, and all the support in this room, it's just been great. It makes me very happy."

Walker said he was sure "a lot of people" called Conque and Rogerson to support him during the hiring process, which included Stephens Inc. CEO Warren Stephens. Warren's father, Jack Stephens, donated $22.4 million for the construction of the Jack Stephens Center, which opened in 2005.

"Everybody knows my relationship with Warren Stephens. I'm not going to hide that," Walker said. "But I had a great relationship with his father way before that. And for Warren and Jack to give the money for this facility ... is major. I don't know if Warren is here or not, but we're going to need another gift soon."

Warren Stephens, who was in attendance, laughed when asked later about Walker's comment regarding another gift.

"I don't know what he's talking about on that," Stephens said. "We certainly have no commitments about that. But I think it could build a lot of excitement for the university, if he's able to come in here and do well. And that would generate support from the community. That's what we've got to have. We've got to have a lot of community support."

Stephens said Walker "wasn't exaggerating" about his friendship with his father, and said he had called Rogerson and Conque in support of Walker.

"I said, 'Look, he wants the job. He's a good coach. Loves Little Rock and Arkansas. His family's here,' " Stephens said. "I talked to Andrew once and I talked to Chasse once."

Walker said he intends to be as visible on campus as he was at Clark Atlanta, where he said he drove around in a golf cart to check on whether his players were in class.

"Checking on my guys, interacting with the janitors in the cafeteria, hanging out with the students: That's how I built a program at Clark Atlanta," Walker said. "I was very visible. People were able to touch me, hang out with me and get to know me. Same thing I'm going to do here."

Walker said that all fomer Trojans basketball players "are welcome at my practice," "are welcome to come to games" and "if I have extra tickets, I will give them to you."

"I think it's very important that we go back and touch base with former players," he said. "Sometimes, former players get lost. I don't want that."

No assistant coaches have been announced, although Walker said he has some in mind.

Walker said his next step is to evaluate the players on the roster, and he said the Trojans would have "a fun style" of play where players would get "up and down the court" and would be "a good product on the floor that everybody's going to want to come."

Clark Atlanta averaged 80.3 points per game and gave up 70.7 points per game last season.

"I'm hoping to do the same thing this year," Walker said.

UALR's hiring of Walker marks the fourth coach in the past five seasons.

Wes Flanigan and former coach Steve Shields were fired. Beard led the Trojans to a 30-5 season in 2015-2016, when the Trojans reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, before leaving for UNLV before eventually changing course and landing at Texas Tech several days later.

"I'm not looking to go anywhere else," Walker said. "I'm looking to stay here. This is home. This state has been great to me. I don't want to go anywhere else. If I happen to have some great years and somebody comes after me, I'll have to go see Warren over there at Stephens Inc. and see if we can work something out."

Sports on 03/31/2018

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