October 17, 2005

Walker Changes His Ways
NBA veteran, trying for Pacers' final roster spot, says he's more focused and prepared


By Mike Wells
mike.wells@indystar.com

Samaki Walker had it all.The fame. The fortune. The talent. Now, almost 10 years later, Walker is considered just another NBA journeyman trying to latch on with a team.

Walker, vying for the Indiana Pacers' final roster spot, knows it. He knows people wonder how he got in this position of attempting to catch the eye of a team so that he can prolong his career.

"Basically, I pretty much put myself in this situation, not always being prepared," he said Sunday afternoon. "There's no pointing the blame at anybody else. It's a maturity thing on my part."

Walker, the No. 9 overall pick by Dallas in the 1996 draft that featured Allen Iverson, Ray Allen and Jermaine O'Neal, has never lived up to his potential. The 6-9 forward has played on five teams and he's never averaged more than 8.9 points and 7.4 rebounds a game. His best season was the same year he won a championship ring. Walker averaged 6.7 points and 7.0 rebounds in a career-high 24 minutes with the 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers.

The reason behind the underachieving play?

The fame and fortune.

Walker wasn't prepared for what awaited him when he left Louisville following his sophomore season. He was more interested in late-night partying than letting his body get the proper rest.

"I've never been arrogant or anything like that, but I was definitely a legitimate lottery pick," Walker said. "People knew my potential and what I could do, but I was hanging out late and partying all the time. It took its toll. At that point in time, basketball became second to partying.

"I had never been exposed to that type of lifestyle. I was naïve coming in and allowing other people to come into my life and control things instead of listening to myself at times."

Walker talks openly about his downfalls not because he wants pity, but rather because he wants others to learn from his mistakes.
"It's a good-bad situation," he said. "It's bad from a career standpoint because potential-wise, I should be at a higher level at this point in my career.

"My thing is, I've done a lot of growing up and I'm not concerned with what other people think. There are other players that are probably in the same predicament I was in years ago at this point in time. If they hear somebody say it, hopefully they can hear it and realize they can straighten up."

A shortage of big men has given Walker, 29, the inside track on the Pacers' final roster spot over Damone Brown and Jimmie Hunter. Jeff Foster, David Harrison and Scot Pollard are all out with injuries.

"When you consider the fact that we have three of our big men out and he's one of the big guys in camp that's playing well, it means we're fortunate to have him here and it could be a situation that works out. We'll see," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "There's no question there's a change in (Walker's) attitude. He's concentrating on things that are winning aspects of the game.

"He's doing little things like being a great screener, being real active off the ball. He's improved his mid-range shooting and he's a guy that can score in the post a lot better than people think. He's an NBA player, no doubt."