Courtesy of Dantley Walker
Friday, May 3, 2013 | 2 a.m.
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Two years removed from his commitment to UNLV, Dantley Walker today seems almost as much a rumor as a member of the Rebels’ incoming recruiting class.
The others in that five-player haul are more tangible. Chris Wood is just down the road at Findlay Prep. Kendall Smith, DeVille Smith and Jelan Kendrick all came to campus in the past year, the former two attending games a day before their commitments.
Meanwhile, Walker is much farther away, in Washington, nearing the end of his two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While the Rebels have played on, Walker is out of sight, mostly out of mind. There are few updates and no new highlight videos on which to dwell, making his games at Lincoln County High in Panaca even more the stuff of legend, albeit against significantly less than legendary competition.
Walker, the state’s all-time leader in points (3,304) and assists (887) while playing in Class 2A, scored 73 points on a February night in 2011. That was one of three times he scored at least 62 in a game that season. And despite the records only showing two seasons of his steals totals, Walker still ranks in the career top 10 in that mark, and his career made 3-pointers (475) trounce second place (287).
Prodigious production, to be sure, but how will it relate to the court at the Division I level? No one can say for certain, though Walker is eager to find out.
“It’s been in the back of my mind for my whole mission, and as I get closer to coming home, it gets brought up more, so it’s been on my mind a little more,” Walker said via email. “I look forward to it and am really excited to get back and play for UNLV and be a part of the program.”
First, though, he’s looking forward to finishing his mission. Walker has traveled a lot in two years, starting first in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, then going to Spokane Valley, Wash. From there he went to Libby, Mont.; Deer Park, Wash.; and now he’s in downtown Spokane.
He’s worked and lived with about 10 different companions and talked with countless members of those communities through his missionary work. The frustrating part, he said, is offering help to someone who clearly needs it but won’t accept it and then watching them continue to struggle on their own. Secondary to that is how much he misses the game.
“Not being able to play ball every day like I used to has been a little bit tougher than I thought it would be,” Walker said.
There are uplifting moments, too, though, both in his work and on the court. The joy he gets from helping others is reflected in the gratitude of one person on Walker’s Facebook page:
“(Walker) showed up on my door step in October and has been studying with us ever since. Elder Walker has definitely been a gift from God.”
His studies and outreach Tuesday through Sunday have been their own reward, Walker said, making the time for the most part vanish before his eyes. But to UNLV fans, the work he does on Mondays is just as important.
Walker works out every day from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m., sometimes weights and often running, but he can only play basketball on Mondays, his de facto day off. For three or four hours, he’s out on the court, surely the best shooting guard of the bunch with the records to prove it. The 20-year-old hasn’t hit a growth spurt, coming in at a self-described 5-foot-10, “pushing 5-11,” and 165 pounds. He’s not short on confidence, though.
Walker said he usually ends his workouts with 100 made 3-pointers, first attempting 10 from five spots around the perimeter and then doing the same on the way back. It’s a popular drill, one that UNLV freshman Katin Reinhardt performs at least a version of after almost every practice.
Asked how many of those he could hit right now, Walker guessed 80-90, saying his best on the first time through is 93. Undersized or not, those numbers are worth a roll of the dice.
“One of the first things I did when I got the job,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said, “was call Dantley and let him know that I had watched him play in AAU basketball, I had watched him in high school and if he still wanted to come to UNLV that we wanted to recommit him and make sure he still wanted to be a Runnin’ Rebel after he completed his mission.”
Walker originally committed to Lon Kruger shortly before Kruger left for Oklahoma. Any questions about whether Walker would still want to come were answered when Rice, who as an assistant at BYU worked with several student-athletes who had served LDS missions, got the job.
“It wasn’t like a new coach coming in with no reference point,” Rice said. “I knew the potential of Dantley and what a high-character young man he is. It was a no-brainer for us and a no-brainer for him, too, I think.”
Just how long it will take Walker to get used to playing every day again and how he’ll be able to contribute are the questions he’ll start to answer this summer when he steps on campus in time for the third summer school session that starts July 15. With a crowded backcourt, his official debut could be another season away, something Walker said is OK with him.
“I just want to go in and help win games, but whatever they need me to do is what I'll do,” he said. “If a redshirt is what I need, then that'll be what I'll do.”
That’s a very real possibility but something Rice won’t decide until the fall. In the meantime, Walker has a mission to finish. Whatever Walker does on the court this season, he’s already living up to his reputation.
“My experience has been an amazing one that has been more than I expected, being able to help others and kind of forget about myself for the past two years and really focus on the needs of others,” Walker said.