JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii hitter Joshua Walker has a lot to learn, but has already posted some big efforts.
Helped by 37 1/2 -inch vertical leap UH's Walker boasts a huge upside
STORY SUMMARY »
Late to the game but quick to learn ... and to excel.
No. 4 UCLA (9-4, 6-3 MPSF) at No. 15 Hawaii (3-6, 2-4)
When: Today and tomorrow, 7 p.m., Stan Sheriff Center
TV: KFVE, Ch. 5
Radio: KKEA 1420-AM » Tickets: $3-$14
That's the CliffsNotes version of Joshua Walker's involvement with volleyball. The freshman outside hitter for Hawaii has, as Warrior coach Mike Wilton is fond of saying, "a big up side."
The emphasis is on "up" because Walker, he of the 37 1/2-inch vertical, can touch 11-feet-4. His jumping ability has led to the predictable but apropos nickname of "Sky."
The force has been with him ... or, rather, he has been the force for No. 15 Hawaii. Since starting four matches ago, Walker has become the Warriors' kill leader (4.67 kpg), putting down a career-high 25 in Hawaii's last match, a tough 3-1 loss at UC Santa Barbara Feb. 2.
"He's the big man who has stepped up huge for use," sophomore middle Steven Grgas said. " He still has a lot to learn, but he's learning fast."
The lessons continue tonight when Walker and the Warriors take on No. 4 UCLA at the Stan Sheriff Center.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Joshua Walker was lightly recruited out of high school in Virginia Beach, Va., which made Hawaii's offer too good to pass up. "I love playing in front of people," he said.
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It's no longer Generation X. This is Generation I, as in Internet and I-fill-in-the-blank.
And the distance from Virginia to Hawaii? It's just a right-click away.
If that hadn't been the case, Hawaii freshman hitter Joshua Walker likely would be a Red Flash instead of a streak of green on the volleyball court for the Warriors. His first choice for colleges was St. Francis (Pa.) due to a combination of athletics, academics -- Walker's a civil engineering major -- and proximity to his family and friends in Virginia.
"If this was five years ago, I don't think I'd be able to do this, I wouldn't think I'd be able to survive so far away from home," said Walker, expected to start tonight when No. 15 Hawaii (3-6, 2-4 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) hosts No. 4 UCLA (9-4, 6-3). "But with computers, cell phones and technology in this day and age, it's OK.
"It would have been nice to have been able to play in front of my friends and family but I'm good. One of the reasons I chose to come here was the attention. I love playing in front of people."
Ironically when it came to recruiting, the 6-foot-1 Walker drew very little attention. Nicknamed "Sky" for high-flying attacks via his 37 1/2 -inch vertical -- he flew under the radar, despite being the state MVP while at Tallwood High in Virginia Beach, Va.
Some Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association schools showed interest, including St. Francis, Penn State and George Mason. Walker also looked at playing basketball, as did some of his high school teammates, at Division II schools.
But Hawaii came calling -- associate coach Tino Reyes spotted Walker at two California club tournaments one summer -- and the combination of volleyball, academics and scholarship help was an offer too good to turn down.
He red-shirted last year as he adapted to Hawaii and the college game. Walker, a rarity as a black volleyball player, also found a lack of his culture.
"Especially music, I like hip-hop and R&B," he said. "And people assume I'm either on the basketball team or the football team, not volleyball.
"It's also a lot slower pace here than the East Coast."
But one thing that has matched Walker's quickness on the court is his grasp of the Warriors offense. His learning curve has been as sharp as his hitting angles, and he's reeled off 20-plus kill performances in two of his last three matches.
"You see his improvement, not just week to week but day to day," UH junior setter Sean Carney said. "It's been in every aspect of volleyball, not just the physical, how high he jumps."
"I've seen him grow in confidence," added junior hitter Jim Clar. "He's stepped up in a position where we needed someone to step up. He's been a real positive for the team."
Walker leads Hawaii in kills (4.14 kpg, 4.67 kpg as a starter) and is tied for aces at 9 with senior hitter Jake Schkud. As Warrior coach Mike Wilton said, Walker's future is bright ... and he'll only get better.
So, too, Walker believes, will the Warriors.
"As long as we keep progressing like we are, we're going to start winning games that we need to win," he said.