Mormon Nevada prep star from small town has big-time talent

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 15 2010 11:00 a.m. MST

PANACA, Nev. — Dantley Walker's basketball stage is limited.

Playing for a 200-student school in an 800-resident town in rural Nevada doesn't get him a lot of exposure. The competition that he and his Lincoln County High teammates face every game also leaves a little to wonder.

But big-city basketball players are not the only ones with big-time dreams. And as Walker approaches the top milestone in Nevada prep basketball history, he's hopeful that his basketball skills will take him to new places — specifically, to a roster spot for one of Utah's Division I programs.

"The challenge is to get people to say he's legit, and not just think that he's putting up numbers like this because he's playing against smaller high schools," said Dantley's father, Greg Walker, an assistant coach and teacher at Lincoln County High, located 60 miles west of Cedar City in Panaca, Nev.

Just beginning his senior season for the Lynx, Walker has already been an all-state player three times, was Nevada's 2A player of the year last year and the state's MVP for classes 1A-3A. MaxPreps named him one of Nevada's top four players last year as a junior.

If he stays healthy and avoids injury, Walker will likely finish his prep career at Lincoln County as Nevada's all-time leading scorer. He began the season with 2,183 career points, 758 behind former Reno star Luke Babbitt — who now plays for the Portland Trail Blazers. Through 12 games this season, he's scored 329 points, putting him 430 points shy of the Nevada career record.

That might sound like a lot of points to score over the next three months, but it's well within reach for a kid who has averaged more than 30 points per game for three seasons, and is near that clip again this season.

Monster games are the norm for Walker. Despite being only 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, he's already scored 45 points once this season and recently scored 37 in the championship game of the Pahrump Holiday Classic — with the clock running.

In last year's Nevada 2A playoffs, he had games of 40 and 43 points, and set a record with seven 3-pointers in one quarter. The Lynx played three Nevada 4A schools last year and Walker scored more than 40 twice, even dumping 47 on Chaparral High out of Las Vegas.

Scoring and shooting are not his only fortes. He's a true point guard that's averaging more than 10 assists, seven rebounds and five steals per game. He's already Nevada's all-time assists leader at 690 and counting.

"My strength has always been my shooting and my passing," Walker said. "I've always been able to do that better than most kids. I've always been able to handle the ball pretty good and push the ball pretty good."

Despite his impressive numbers, however, only junior college and Division II offers sit atop Walker's dresser. His size, and his level of competition, has D-I college coaches skeptical.

"I've had coaches tell me that if he was 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-2, they'd be lining up to get him. But because he's small they're not quite sure if he can do it," Greg Walker said.

Still, college coaches are lining up to monitor Walker's progress. Currently, however, none from a D-I program have yet to toss an offer his way. Every program in Utah, from Snow College to Southern Utah, Utah Valley, Weber State, Utah, Utah State and BYU, are showing interest in Walker.

Last December, BYU assistant Dave Rice even made the 10-hour, round-trip drive from Provo in the middle of a snowstorm to see Walker score 43 points and sink 10 3-pointers against Enterprise.

But Walker continues to be one of those watch-and-follow prospects. Realistically, unless he fills out and gets stronger, he's probably going to be asked by the bigger schools to either walk on or prove himself first at a junior college.

Walker is hopeful that a strong senior season will give him a better option.

"I've always wanted to sign D-I, but if I have to go to a JC first or walk on, then that's what I have to do. I hope I don't have to go that route, but I will if I need to," he said.

"I want to prove that I can play at the D-I level and hopefully get a scholarship from there. And I'm pretty confident I can play at the Division I level. I really feel like I can."

He also needs to prove that he can defend bigger guards in a man defense.

"I need to get stronger, bigger and just keep doing what I'm doing," Walker said. "But I think the colleges coaches that are skeptical are a little surprised when they see me play."

Before college, Walker will first serve an LDS Church mission. That delay also has college coaches in a wait-and-see mode.

"I'd love to play in Utah, but it doesn't really matter to me. I just hope a few more D-I schools get on board and I get an offer," he said.

Dad just favors a place where his son will get a chance to play, and where he'll also get a free education.

"We still think there are going to be some offers come. But I've told him before, there's nothing wrong with going the JC route. I just hope that wherever he plays that it's close enough that I don't have to travel too far to watch him," Greg Walker said.

In an attempt to overcome his small-town, weak-competition question marks, Walker has traveled long distances each summer to compete with AAU teams. For three years, he played with the Las Vegas Prospects. Last summer, it was the Utah Select.

"Dantley has an unbelievable feel for the game," said Dwayne Shellenberger, coach of the Utah Select. "He is so crafty on the floor and can flat out shoot the basketball."

In one AAU game, Walker made 10 3-pointers. In another, he had 17 points and 17 assists. Shellenberger agrees that a lack of size, strength and some questions on defense are the things keeping Walker from being a hot D-I prospect.

"There's no doubt that he's a no-brainer Juco or D-II player. He's very good. As far as D-I, I think he can get there. He's a gym rat that has so many basketball intangibles, and he's an incredible team player," Shellenberger said.

The Walkers spurned offers to transfer Dantley (the name comes from dad's favorite NBA player, former Utah Jazz forward Adrian Dantley) to a larger school in Las Vegas.

"I had people say 'you've got to get him into Vegas.' But people know about him now, either for what he's doing in our league or in AAU. And besides, he's happy out here, and we're happy out here," Greg Walker said.

And in Panaca, Dantley Walker remains the talk of the town.

"Our games are really loud and it's standing room only in our gym. And it's cool because everyone knows me and I'm playing with my friends. I love the environment out here and the games are just crazy," he said.

"There are people who haven't been to games in a long time but are coming now because they've heard about what he's doing and they want to see if he can really live up to the billing," Greg Walker added.

So far, he hasn't disappointed. Where his show stops next is yet to be determined.

e-mail: jimr@desnews.com

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