ARIZONA BASKETBALL

'Great basketball mind' waits his turn

Ex-point guard Walker hopes to turn operations gig into assistant's job at UA
2010-02-16T00:00:00Z 2014-07-24T09:34:16Z 'Great basketball mind' waits his turn Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 16, 2010 12:00 am  • 

With only three assistants allowed on the floor, college basketball head coaches often stash a "coach-in-waiting" into an administrative or operational role.

At Arizona, however, the position is currently held by a "coach-on-detour."

It would be a mistake to call Jamall Walker, the Wildcats director of basketball operations, a "coach-in-waiting" because he was an assistant coach for a decade after leaving Saint Louis University as its starting point guard in the late 1990s.

Still, Walker joined Sean Miller's UA staff last spring to be part of a higher-profile program - and with a chance he might become an assistant for the Wildcats some day.

NCAA rules forbid Walker from coaching duties, but he says he's learning by watching. The Wildcats, meanwhile, get another former point guard on their staff who can help the coaches and players logistically behind the scenes.

"He has a great basketball mind," Miller said. "In the administrative role he plays and working with the players, he does an excellent job. And maybe here one day, as we experience change, we can promote from within, which is always a good thing to do."

Here's how Walker describes his role, his past and his future:

He's at a program he watched as a high schooler to see one of his favorite players, Damon Stoudamire.

"When you're from Kansas, you watch Kansas. But me being a junkie, I love point guards. I watched Damon Stoudamire, Anthony Peeler at Missouri, Mookie Blaylock at Oklahoma, Lee Mayberry at Arkansas. … I always considered (Arizona) a school I would love to be a part of."

He was recruited heavily in high school by former UA assistant coach Scott Thompson.

Thompson was Wichita State's coach back then. But Walker chose Saint Louis and coach Charlie Spoonhour because Spoonhour had once coached one of Walker's friends, Johnny Murdock, at Southwest Missouri State.

"I think the one thing I learned from Spoonhour was simplicity," Walker said. "We didn't do a lot of things that were complicated but we were good at what we do. Sometimes, you can overcoach."

He reached the NCAA tournament as a junior in 1998.

Walker had some help from a Saint Louis freshman named Larry Hughes, who made a quick jump to the NBA after that season.

"He made life easy. I don't think he knew he was one-and-done. He had no clue," Walker said. "(Hughes) kept getting better each and every game. You would see his confidence grow and grow. He eventually became a leader, not so much vocally, but he gave us an attitude when we walked in the gym.

"When (Hughes) had 40 on Marquette at Marquette in mid-February, I remember sitting at my locker after the game, and I looked across at a friend of mind at him and said, 'He could leave.' He went on a stretch where he had 30-plus three games in a row and it was like, 'Oh boy.'"

As an assistant, he met Miller when Xavier recruited one of Walker's junior college players.

The recruit was Dupree Lucas, who played at Xavier before transferring to Portland State. During the process, Walker came to know former Xavier assistant John Groce, who hired him last season to be an assistant at Ohio.

"It's kind of the tree branching off for each guy," Walker said. "I interviewed at Xavier (for an opening in 2007 under Miller) and he hired Book (Richardson), which was obviously a great hire but it was a great experience for me. I worked for John at Ohio and when this came open I took it."

He hesitated about taking a UA job that wouldn't allow him to coach, but he also saw the upside.

"If you want to run a company you better know every aspect of the company," Walker said. "When you have an opportunity to do things like this, you can take a back seat and watch and learn, and it's almost better than doing it because you're watching a good map of building a program from a distance. It allows you to kind of evaluate for yourself and see what are the good things, what are the bad things, what would I do differently."

His role is not strictly defined, but it touches on many aspects of UA day-to-day operations, academic concerns and scheduling.

"I try to make everybody's job easier so they can concentrate on coaching our guys," Walker said. "And with our players off the court, that's the best way I can describe it. I don't have a list. It's just like, 'If you can do more, do more.'"

He has no timeline to get back on the floor to coach.

"I came here for the experience, for the opportunity to work with Sean, his staff and for the university," Walker said. "To work with these guys on a daily basis and say maybe one day, 'I was there when it evolved' would be special to me."

Jamall Walker

Age: 32

Hometown: Wichita, Kan.

College: Saint Louis (2000)

Experience:

• 2008-09: Assistant coach, Ohio University

• 2007-08: Assistant coach, Murray State

• 2006-07: Assistant coach, Saint Louis

• 2004-06: Assistant coach, Ball State

• 2002-04: Assistant coach, Redlands Community College (El Reno, Okla.)

• 2000-02: Assistant coach, F.L. Schlagle High School (Kansas City, Kan.)

• 1999-2000: Assistant coach, Alton (Ill.) High School

Playing career highlights:

Started 73 games at Saint Louis, with his 350 assists ranking No. 6 in school history. Named 1995 Kansas Gatorade player of the year at Wichita South High School.

UP NEXT

• What: Arizona State at Arizona

• When: 3:30 p.m., Sunday

• TV: FSAZ

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)

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