Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Radford's Destinee Walker enjoying breakout season

We talked to Radford coach Mike McGuire.

We wished we had talked to Radford star Destinee Walker.

That's no knock on McGuire. As expected, the coach did an excellent job detailing the on-court exploits of Walker, the sensational sophomore wing whose early season performance has been nothing short of a revelation.

But when asked to describe Walker's personality, McGuire said "she's a fun girl, with a very engaging personality. Really outgoing. The kind of kid who's never met a stranger. A real people person. On the bus she's the life of the team. She just has this tremendous energy, and I think our team feeds off that."

Wouldn't YOU rather talk to someone like this?

Of course, we suspect Appalachian State wants nothing more to do with Walker, not after she put the Highlanders on her back down the stretch Sunday to mute the Mountaineers 57-54. With less than a minute remaining and the Highlanders down two, the 5-11 Walker scored six straight points and grabbed two rebounds in a 25-second span to pull Radford through.

"I saw a side of her that was like, 'we're not losing this game if I have anything to do with it,' " McGuire said.

Walker finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds for her third straight double-double. For the season she's averaging 16.2 points on 59 percent shooting (56.3 percent from 3) and 8.3 rebounds - numbers that not only lead Radford but also the entire Big South. On Monday, she earned her first Big South Player of the Week nod.

This from a player who averaged 3.3 points and 2.2 rebounds in 19 games last season.

How did that Destinee "Crawler" become today's full-fledged, butt-kicking Destinee Walker? Being healthy is a big key - last year, injuries robbed Walker of part of the preseason and the first 10 games of her college career. When she did play, McGuire estimated she was at about 80 percent.

Added maturity helped, as did adjusting to the speed of the college game and a strong offseason, which led to a renewed confidence. The result? Well, you know that scene in the movies where a superhero just discovers they can fly, lift boulders and stuff like that? That's our metaphor for what's happening with Walker now.

Can't wait to see where this story goes next.

Walker's emergence is just one of the positives at Radford, which has raced out to a 5-1 start despite limited contributions from All-Big South forward Janayla White. A finicky sprained ankle has left White on the sideline for three games and in limited duty for the three others. But save for in the season-opening loss to George Mason, there has always been another Highlander or two ready to elevate into a key role.

"There's just something about this team," McGuire said.

On Thursday, the Highlanders will try for their sixth straight victory when they host Western Carolina (3-7) at 11 a.m. in the second annual Education Day game. More than 2,000 local elementary school students are expected to be on hand to cheer on the home team.

If Radford is successful, perhaps we'll place another call and have McGuire fill us in again.

Or better yet, maybe Walker can supply the details.


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