Sunday, November 6, 2016

A talk with Khari Walker

Every so often a basketball phenom appears on the scene. Soon thereafter, a mad scramble ensues to annoint the youngster as the next LeBron or the new Steph in a race for the bragging rights of being the first to call it. The reverse side of the situation are the nattering nabobs of negativism who spring up to denounce the kid as an imposter and demand an annulment to the annointment. Meanwhile, the teenager continues on his merry basketball way, hopefully impervious to both the outlandish praise and invective.

This essence of this article centers around 6-foot-6 freshman Kyree Walker of Moreau Catholic High but no quotes from him will appear. What follows are snippets of a conversation with his father, Khari Walker, about the many factors and elements involved in raising a talented basketball prospect.


"I grew up in a pro football house but  it was one that still loved basketball. My father was in real estate and sometimes we would go to Celtic games as part of his business meetings.
Kyree played baseball, football, soccer, basketball, even boxing growing up. He was five when he started football -- they go early in Georgia. It was age seven for basketball. I was big on football but becoming whatever he chose -- scientist, astronaut -- was going to be supported. He came to me and said 'Dad, I want to play basketball. I asked him if he wanted to play play or play and he said play play.' So I did some preparation doing research on the great players, taking bits and pieces. 

At age eight, his team won the AAU national championship and his teams have always reached the top 10 in the nationals. His work ethic amazes me. While living in Atlanta, Kyree played for the Memphis War Eagles. We would have to drive five and a half hours for games. He was also playing above his grade there. That creates mental toughness. 

He was one of the tallest of the kids on his 9u AAU team and the coach wouldn't let him dribble so I created another team and Kyree helped run the point. I'm 6-foot-9 so he could very well end up 6-foot-10 and our plan is to get him ready to play the post, play the wing and run the point. Basketball is now a positionless sport and that was our thinking even way back then. I always liked Lamar Odom because he could get a rebound, push the ball up the floor and finish and we want Kyree to be doing that.

I'm the only trainer he has had because it's difficult to put him in someone else's hands at his age. It's been a lot of trial and error. He's logged a lot of games, some good and some bad. I didn't allow him to shoot threes until the fifth grade because I didn't want him to develop bad form because he wasn't strong enough.

He has a good IQ because of the number of games he has played in and the reps he has received. He's always learning from mistakes and adding pieces to his game. I get asked if Kyree has it in him to get better and I laugh at that. Kyree doesn't like to get passed. He motivates himself and any negativity adds fuel to the fire.   

There are four seasons, fall, winter, spring and summer and it's important to add something [to your game] every season. It gets your IQ up. With Kyree, he has been faceguarded and double-teamed but we always reiterate about taking good shots. Skill development for me is doing with your right hand everything you can do with your left hand. But you have to learn from the beginning because to get to XYZ you have to have ABC down first.

I've taught him to have a short memory, to go on to next play. A lot of kids have trouble with confidence. Going first with discipline is important but we've have always given Kyree the confidence. Thon Maker (7-foot-1 and now with the Milwaukee Bucks) dunked on Kyree once and I thought we lost him but, no, he got up and it added a spark.

The biggest thing that I see is that kids are overtrained. There are plenty of good trainers out there but some of the stuff the kids are learning isn't practical. A nine-dribble move isn't going to get anyone to the next level amd I'm not a fan of using cones. I'm about it being practical, teaching kids stuff they can really use. Remember that every action has a counter reaction. Players need go-to moves. I call the elbow the kill zone and in my mind you have to make 8-10 from there. Guys like Kobe and Michael Jordan, they took most of their shots from the same place like Kobe at the elbow. LeBron has started doing that.  

Kyree senses the pressure and knows someone is coming for him every game. People have booed him but he uses the negativity for motivation. We don't live in what people say and it doesn't stop our everyday living. People can talk bad about a kid but remember that the kid has to go home and be a kid. We count our blessings.  

Parents and coaches come to me and ask how can they can get their kid or player to be good. I tell them the pieces for my child are different from yours. Figure out what works for your kid or player. But don't find yourself coaching at home rather than being a father. That's the biggest downfall I've seen.

We moved to California two years ago. With Kyree being recognized, the celebrity has effected everyone in the family. It's truly tested us but it's a wonderful time. Everyone know that basketball is a business  even youth basketball. Guys will come up to Kyree and ask if he'll wear their t-shirt during warmups. He's still a kid so we try and keep outside influences away and keep a great circle of support around him. We're trying to do the very best we can.  

It's about being the first Kyree Walker. Be that person versus any comparison to other basketball players. I love the opportunity to watch my son living his dream."

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