By LARRY VAUGHT
Just how good is recent Kentucky basketball commit Jada Walker? The point guard is a top 70 player nationally in the 2021 recruiting class but she got her first Division I scholarship from Michigan when she was in the sixth grade.
“That was kind of overwhelming,” said Walker. “I was expecting it to happen eventually, but not in sixth grade.”
The left-handed playmaker had narrowed her college choices to Mississippi State, Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina State and Kentucky before going with the Wildcats. Knowing there likely would be no elite summer league play this year, Walker just felt it was the “right time” to make her college choice.
“Kentucky is just a great fit. I loved the coaching staff. Coach (Matthew) Mitchell kept in contact with me through all this (coronavirus) stuff. I like Kentucky in general. I have played basketball there (in Lexington). For me, the style of play is perfect at Kentucky.”
Also throw in this unique factor that helped Kentucky with Walker.
“I have always wanted to go to the Kentucky Derby one day, so maybe going to Kentucky will hopefully make that easier to do,” she said.
Her mother, AnnMarie Gilbert, has been a college coach — she recently took the head job at Detroit Mercy after being head coach at Virginia Union since 2015 — and knows both Mitchell and UK assistant coach Niya Butts.
Her father, Jon Walker, was a standout player at Virginia Union and has trained/coached his daughter for years. She says basketball is basically in her genes. As a second grader, she played on a team of seventh- and eighth-grade players coached by her father.
“That is when I first started playing,” Walker laughed and said. “We won the national title when I was either in second or third grade. But it was hard. I was the youngest one obviously on the team. The jersey would not even fit. I had a small (jersey) but it looked like an XL (extra large) on me because I was so small.”
She helped Henrico High School in Richmond, Va., make it to the state tournament for the first time in about 20 years last season when she averaged 27 points, six steals, six assists and four rebounds per game. She had a “couple” of triple-doubles and got close to a quadruple double. She’s already score 1,990 points and is aiming to reach 3,000 by the end of her senior season.
“I am an all-around type of player. I think I can do a little bit of everything,” the UK commit, who says she will be staying in Virginia for her final high school season, said. “I can play defense, shoot, score, pass. I don’t like to be limited by what I can do. Whatever my team needs me to do, I think I can do. I obviously have a high basketball IQ with two coaches as parents.”
Walker admits she was not pushed that hard on the court by other players until eighth grade when she started working out with some of her mother’s college players who were obviously not only older but bigger and much stronger.
“I got my competitive spirit playing with them,” Walker said. “They were not going to just let me do anything. I had to earn everything but that was good for me.”
She said her parents have had an “equal” influence on her career. Her father concentrated on her training more and her mom has stressed things she needed to do to become a college player.
“They point out things I do well but also things I don’t do well and if you want to get better, you need that,” Walker said. “I think I was also blessed to be naturally fast. Me and my brother would go to the track every day just to run two miles. I guess that’s where my speed and endurance came from.”
Her brother will be a high school sophomore and she plays basketball with him often.
“Our games are very competitive now. It used to be I would win, but he learned and now the games are head-on. It just depends on the day we are having, but that has been good to have him push me,” Walker said.