Another familiar face on the Lions bench this year is former guard Taylor Walker. Walker, who hails from nearby Inglewood, attended Santa Monica High School and Fullerton Junior College prior to joining the Lions as a walk-on in 2010. In his final year as a fifth-year senior, Walker appeared in 21 games with 9 starts and played a major role as the Lions made a memorable run in last year’s WCC Tournament in Las Vegas.
Walker is currently pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at LMU. During the day, Walker works part-time as a graduate assistant in LMU’s Office of the Provost, where he assists with the Provost’s schedule and appointments. He also administers the academic affairs website, sits on a panel charged with mentoring African American students, and supervises work study students. After work, Walker makes the familiar trek to Gersten Pavilion where he serves as a team manager for the Lions.
AH: What are your official responsibilities on the team?
TW: I am one of several team managers, and we have common responsibilities among us. However, unlike the other student managers, my responsibilities include taking guys to off-campus doctor’s appointments and treatments, providing feedback and insight to players and coaches at practice, and helping our freshmen transition academically from high school to college. I also share my experiences and insight on how to defend certain players in the league, and I’m there to help point them in the right direction off the court.
AH: What motivated you to come back to help the team?
After last year, I was under the impression that I would have another year of eligibility. However, after my petition to the NCAA was denied, I decided to stay on and help the team in any way I could. I love being around the program and had so many great experiences. Coming back as a team manager is my way of giving back.
AH: What is it like to be a walk-on to a Div. 1 basketball program?
It’s a different experience for sure. Because practice time is so condensed, I understand why a walk-on is the last to get practice reps or participate in certain drills. But I knew what I was getting into. The stigma of being a walk-on motivated me to keep working hard. It gave me an edge and a mentality that I had something to prove. Regardless of my status, I still found opportunities to show that I could play. Anthony Ireland was my best friend on the team. Once I understood that my role was to help Anthony get better, I stopped worrying about playing time and the distractions that go with it. As a result, practice became less stressful, extremely competitive, and fun. We battled and challenged each other every day. Turns out, one huge benefit of practicing every day against a guy like Anthony Ireland is that your game improves in the process. My experience taught me that it’s not about whether you are a walk-on or on scholarship. What matters is the desire inside yourself that helps make a difference at practice or in a game.
AH: How did you come to LMU after transferring from Fullerton Junior College?
TW: After my second year at Fullerton, I received offers to play at Div. II and NAIA schools. However, it was always my dream to play Div. 1 basketball. One of the assistant coaches at Fullerton JC knew former assistant coach Jason Levy who told me I would have a legitimate chance to walk on. Attending a school with a strong academic reputation was also very important and the possibility of my family being able to watch me play if I earned playing time made LMU a natural choice.
AH: You were a WCC All-Academic honorable mention selection as an undergraduate. How important is education to you?
TW: School is my No. 1 priority. I want to be great at everything and that includes the classroom, where I am competing not only against other LMU students but also everyone else — nationally and internationally. I know that the current economy is not the best of times and as a result, jobs are hard to come by. My parents taught me at a very young age that school is important. I see education as my safety net and an important stepping stone to where I want to be.
AH: Are there any secrets to success in the classroom?
TW: Time management is the most important. There are many distractions today with social media, Facebook, video games, and televised sports. My advice to our players is to get a jumpstart on homework assignments, maintain a calendar, and plan ahead. I tell them to focus on a good chunk of homework every day to help manage the demands of college basketball, schoolwork, and stress. I also encourage them to develop relationships with their professors and take advantage of available resources such as the Academic Resource Center, Writing Center, and Learning Resource Center.
AH: What are you currently studying and what interested you in this field?
TW: I’m currently working on a master’s degree in business administration. At the end of the day, I think everyone would benefit from having a sense and awareness of basic business techniques and mechanisms. While I’m undecided on a permanent career, I’m confident that a background in business will provide for a variety of future opportunities.
AH: What are your long-term goals?
TW: LMU’s MBA curriculum includes an incubator program where you take a business idea and turn it into action. Several years ago, my father created a board game called Earth Encounters, which embeds lessons on becoming better citizens. Among other things, the game educates players on government, health issues, and what to do in disaster situations as examples. My goal is to complete this project with my father because I think the game would have a positive impact on others.
AH: Is coaching part of your future?
TW: While it’s hard to see myself as a coach since I just completed my eligibility less than a year ago, I can see myself in coaching. In my spare time, I personally train kids up to age 14. I have some older kids but right now, time is my biggest constraint. I would have the best of both worlds if I were able to combine my interests in basketball and business.
AH: Describe the transition from player to extended member of the coaching staff?
TW: It’s weird being on the sidelines. When I played, we rarely spent time off the court with the coaches. Now, I spend more time with the coaches than our players. The players still respect me and I have great relationships with each of them. The biggest change I’ve noticed is that I can’t be as playful with them. I’m maturing in my role and I have to set a good example. I joke less with them now and I find myself more serious, especially when giving advice on how to improve as a player. Because I’m away from them now, I’m not in the loop anymore on what’s happening with the players on a personal level.
AH: What have you learned on or off the court that has helped you?
TW: My LMU basketball experience validated my belief that you have to have faith, stay positive, and if you continue working hard, opportunities will come your way. But you have to be ready when those opportunities are presented. That readiness comes from all the hard work and effort you’ve put in beforehand. I’ve had my fair share of adversity whether it was foot surgeries, self-doubt, or being told by friends that I would never play. The easy road is to retreat and lay down. However, I saw past all that and just stuck with what I knew. My experience over the last year provided a life lesson that I’ll continue to use in the future.
AH: What is your most memorable experience at LMU?
TW: Without a doubt, it was the WCC Tournament. That whole experience was magical. After the win against Portland, I was asked to attend the post-game press conference, which blew me away. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would be invited to a press conference or that the media would be interested in talking to me about a game. As I was walking to the media room, Gary Payton, one of the best point guards to ever play the game, pulled me aside for a quick conversation. He said he watched my growth over the past season and that he was proud of what I had to overcome in order to play. He reminded me to not only play for myself but also for my family and LMU. The conversation with GP was inspiring and provided the fuel I needed for the rest of the tournament. Being recognized by someone of his caliber was a monumental moment for me. Another memorable experience of the tournament was walking through the hotel before and after each subsequent win. As a team, we could see fear in the faces of the teams and their fans before every game we played. No one wanted to play us.