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2013-'14 Season Coverage
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Nothing but net for West Aurora's Walker
 

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Nothing but net for West Aurora's Walker
  • West Aurora’s Jontrell Walker has a streak of 30 straight free throws.

    Purchase Photo | West Aurora’s Jontrell Walker has a streak of 30 straight free throws. Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Jontrell Walker has played a central role on two sectional championship teams in his four years starting at West Aurora.

    Purchase Photo | Jontrell Walker has played a central role on two sectional championship teams in his four years starting at West Aurora. Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 

Included in the capsules printed in West Aurora's senior night program, Blackhawks guard Jontrell Walker named his brother, Johnny, as the person who has inspired him the most.

It's an inspired choice. Johnny "Little J" Walker earned a unanimous vote to the DuPage Valley All-Conference Team in 2006, point guard for the last West Aurora squad to win the DVC before this season's co-championship with Glenbard North.

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The two don't battle each other on the court much anymore. Johnny's time is occupied working for a moving company in Aurora. That may have added muscle, but perhaps his wind isn't what it was.

"I know I'm kind of out of shape, and I don't want to beat him because he might think he's king of the world," Johnny said. "He might be able to beat me, maybe, if I take it easy on him."

In or out of shape, gym or driveway, that would be a scrimmage worth watching. Because right now Jontrell Walker is king of the world -- at least of West Aurora's world.

One of few players who've started all four years for one of the state's elite boys basketball programs, the 6-foot, Division I-bound guard is the Blackhawks' all-time leading scorer. Averaging 23.4 points this season, entering regional play Walker's 610 points have him at a school-record 1,706, surpassing Juwan Starks' 1,627 points.

A pure shooter, Walker's 72 3-point baskets this season give him 184 for his career, both school records.

According to West Aurora District 129 board president, historian and broadcaster Neal Ormond, in the 11 games prior to West Aurora's regional opener on Tuesday Walker had made 56 of 57 free throws. Walker is 76 of 79 from the line since the calendar changed to 2014 and is 124 for 138 on the season, 89.9 percent.

Entering Tuesday he'd made 30 straight free throws. With a few more wins and a few more hacks he has a chance to catch Bill Farrar's season record of 147 conversions in 1967.

As with any sport, in basketball defense is huge and Walker is solid, snagging 1.9 steals a game. But when the horn sounds the team with the most points wins, and by putting up the most points Walker has contributed to 84 wins and two sectional titles.

Starting the game at 3 years old, before high school Walker took No. 34 worn by his older brother and idol. Since freshman year Jontrell has been No. 10 and, he said, has tried to create a positive image for that number at West Aurora.

"I believe I've done that," said Jontrell Walker, honorary captain of the Daily Herald 2013-14 TriCities All-Area Boys Basketball Team.

"I just think he's a great player," Johnny Walker said. "He's dedicated, he puts a lot of time in, and congratulations to him ... I'm just real proud of him."

There are reasons for pride other than Jontrell Walker's West Aurora scoring record, which he attained on that senior night game, an 83-81 loss to Glenbard North. He missed a 3-point shot, grabbed the long rebound and -- proving his 45 percent accuracy from the arc this season -- with 8.9 seconds remaining swished a 3-pointer from the left wing to move ahead of Starks with his career-high 36th point.

The DuPage Valley Conference's all-time leading scorer and reigning co-MVP with Glenbard North's Chip Flanigan, Walker followed that game with a 30-point effort the next night in an 80-60 nonconference win over Downers Grove South.

Walker has worked on and off the court to qualify to play Division I basketball. He'll be headed to the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, which recently earned its 20th victory in its first season of DI men's basketball.

Blackhawks coach Gordie Kerkman, who played Walker at point guard his first three seasons before shifting him to more of a shooting-guard spot to also get the most out of senior point guard Matt Dunn, is impressed by a lot of things about No. 10. Mainly, his work ethic.

"I think Jontrell puts a lot of time into his game and is very disciplined," said Kerkman, No. 6 in Illinois prep boys basketball victories.

"If he's got something to do -- usually study -- he'll spend as much time as he's got allowed for whatever he has to do, whether it be weight training or working on his jump shot or going home to do his homework," Kerkman said.

"He's a very disciplined young man. I think it's proven in the classroom -- he's a very good student and he works very hard on that and he works very hard on his basketball game."

Listening to Walker it seems he's been motivated by different things at different points in his basketball career.

It started by looking up to Johnny. Attending his brother's games, Jontrell fantasized that it was he being announced in the starting lineup as West Aurora's Pep Band played.

When that time came, starting point guard as a freshman, he experienced early success with 13 points in the second game of the season and again in the sixth game, a 46-41 win over Naperville North, Kerkman's 700th victory.

Then came the inevitable lull, and his confidence fell. He doubted his shot, his ball-handling, his quickness.

"My freshman year was, I believe, the hardest basketball year I've had," Walker said.

"I think there was a lot of pressure on him as a freshman starting on varsity," said West Aurora assistant coach Paul Kieffer. "He wasn't a good shooter as a freshman (29.5 percent) but to his credit he worked hard in the offseason and has become one of the best shooters in the area."

Training with his brother on ballhandling and taking thousands of jump shots -- "because he was never lightning-quick," Johnny said -- and also working out at the Illinois Basketball Academy in Naperville, he improved.

Playing his first two seasons with former All-Area captain Starks, Jontrell learned that wins, not points, were the goal.

"Juwan was the kind of player where whether he had 4 points, 8 points or 30 points, if he got that win, he was happy," said Walker, a fan of comedy movies.

The wins -- and the points -- piled up. As a sophomore a 25-6 record, the first of two sectional titles, and 13.6 points per game; last season's 24-7 record as a junior averaging 17.4 points to earn his first all-DVC honor and Class 4A All-State honorable mention.

Much of this season, Walker said, has been about learning to lead.

"Most of the preseason ‘experts' would not have named West as the predicted DVC champion because of all the untested underclassmen in the starting lineup. Jontrell's leadership has been the difference," Neal Ormond wrote in an email.

Part of it has been pumping up his junior players when necessary, using positive body language, competing hard in every practice drill.

"Jontrell absolutely hates to lose," Blackhawks assistant Paul Kieffer said.

Part of it is showing how it's done -- hitting four 3-pointers and scoring 34 points at Pontiac to nearly beat Curie in a 74-73 overtime loss; stealing the ball on five consecutive Peoria Manual possessions. Walker earned unanimous first-team honors at Pontiac and were it not for Curie's Cliff Alexander, Gordie Kerkman believes Walker may have been the MVP.

"He was beyond extraordinary," noted veteran Daily Herald correspondent Kevin McGavin, who was watching West Aurora basketball well before he graduated from the school in 1981.

Now in the twilight of his high school career, Jontrell Walker's numerous accomplishments stemmed from a long-ago desire -- catching Johnny.

"I used to just look up to him, like, I wanted to be just like him," Jontrell said of his brother.

Regarding West Aurora scorers he has and then some.

"I don't think I contributed to it much other than going to the gym with him before the season came," Johnny said. "But as far as becoming the leading scorer, he did that."

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