Unlike most of the players beginning their college basketball careers this summer, Walker has lived away from home. He spent a prep year at Sunrise Christian Academy in a suburb of Wichita, Kan., about three hours from his home near Kansas City, Mo.
So when the 6-foot-8 power forward with a tall head of hair arrived in Knoxville earlier this month, there was no homesickness.
“I’m used to it by this point,” Walker said after playing in a recent Rocky Top League game. “I do miss my mom, because that’s my number one lady. But I feel fine.”
Walker’s acclimation to Tennessee is on a fast track, too, because of the extra 10 practices the Volunteers are allotted in advance of their August trip to Europe. The extra time in the gym has helped the 19-year-old learn what the coaching staff expects from him as the Vols look ahead to the 2017-18 season.
“Right now, the biggest adjustment for me is just getting my body back in shape,” Walker said. “On my visit I came in a little heavy. So I got here and slimmed down a little bit. But I’m still trying to get lower.”
Walker said the Tennessee staff focuses on body fat percentage, not a specific weight. If he needs any dietary advice, he has a pair of teammates to consult in rising sophomore forward Grant Williams and rising junior forward Admiral Schofield.
“Those guys always give me advice on what to eat, what not to eat,” Walker said. “They’re really helpful.”
Walker is pitted against Williams and Schofield in the Rocky Top League, however. The annual three-week summer league features six teams comprised of collegiate players past and present from around East Tennessee.
The league is giving Walker a game-like setting to work on getting in shape and refining his skills against solid competition.
“I really just want to improve my post work, my high arc, my shooting mid-range and 3-point,” he said.
Walker was rated a four-star prospect by 247Sports and a three-star prospect by Rivals.com. Tennessee coach Rick Barnes praised Walker’s size, strength and toughness when his signing was announced. Tennessee’s staff also liked Walker’s basketball IQ and his comfort at being vocal on defense.
“His next challenge is to get himself into great shape so that he can make the kind of impact we believe he’s capable of,” Barnes said when Walker signed in April.
That process has started.
“I love stepping up to challenges,” Walker said. “I’m a competitive guy. I really don’t like losing, and whenever there’s a chance to compete, I’ll always do it.”