- National Teams
Credit: Thanks to Peter Simmons at 5or6 (5or6.co.uk) for editorial and image.
Just over ten years ago, Shane Walker left for America hoping to forge a career in a new found sport. His journey would see him pit his wits against some of the best in the country, before re-crossing the Atlantic once again to play out his dreams in Europe and Africa.
“I was really anxious at the start to be playing in America and live the lifestyle that it brings,” he recalled.
“It was really exciting for me to learn over there.”
Like most British kids, Walker saw himself playing football rather than shooting hoops, but as he began to grow, a chance competition up in Cheshire would change his career path forever.
“I just kept getting taller – 6’4” / 6’5” – people started telling me I should play basketball. I decided to try it out, and although I wasn’t good, I joined my local side in Northampton.
“I had some friends there and we all went to a camp in Cheshire. Whilst I was at the camp they said they wanted me to head to America to go to high school and play basketball.
“I stayed for a year to finish my GCSE’s in England before heading over to America.”
Walker was offered a scholarship at the University of Maryland after playing AAU basketball, but made a transfer after his freshman year to get more game time.
“I didn’t play that much in my first year so I transferred over to Loyola University where I would graduate.
“To be honest it was a struggle to start with as I had a lot to learn heading over there. I had missed a lot of years of basketball growing up so I was practising three/four times a day just to catch up. I kept it varied, practising with the teams but also individual workouts and working hard in the gym.
“It was an adjustment period but one which I can look back on and be thankful for.”
That grounding for Walker would pay dividends as his Loyola side made it to the NCAA tournament in his Senior year. It was a year that would stick with the 6’10” forward long beyond his college years as he would mix it up with some of best around.
“We had made it to the first round to play Ohio State. They had a good roster – Jared Sullinger & Aaron Craft – Sullinger went on to play in the NBA and Craft was on the all-defensive team. They had a good team and we just didn’t have enough to get past them. They were one of the elite sides that year and I think they actually made it to the final four.
“One of my biggest memories was playing at the Rupp Arena against Kentucky. We had stayed there the night before. We were treated like kings in the build up to that game. I just remember wave after wave of people in blue, it seemed like the whole of Kentucky were going to that game.
“We couldn’t even see how far back the crowd went. Then we got on the court and you have players like Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. All guys that are in the NBA now. They had a stacked team, we were so excited we kept it close for the first half but they were just on another level to us.
“Games like that were tough to overcome but gave me some incredible memories. Memories that will live with me forever.
“Looking back I feel that I should have made the decision that I wanted to make coming out of high school. I wanted to go to Virginia Tech or Miami. I was talked out of it and talked into going to Maryland.
“My advice would be to follow your own path. Do what you think is best for you as it’s your life to live.”
After impressing in the NCAA tournament, Walker found himself chased by several agents and after making a decision on who to go with, he started to get offers through. Walker opted to start his professional career for AS Apollon Patras in Greece.
“It is one of my favourite places to play,” he declared. “The whole environment suited me, the weather and the food, and the fans over there were great.
“They are really passionate about basketball and I love their culture. I was there soaking it all in. In my first professional year especially, it was a year to learn about the professional game and a new culture.
“Once I left Greece, I went to Cyprus for a short period to cover an injured player before heading to finish the season in Holland.”
Walker enjoyed a relatively successful period in the lowlands before returning to the UK with Plymouth Raiders.
“On reflection it was one of the worst decisions I made,” he revealed. “They’ve had a lot of comings and goings there and I never settled. For me though that’s basketball, there are going to be highs and lows and you just need to learn from the experience.”
With things coming to a head on the South coast, Walker was offered to join the high-flying AS Sale in Morocco.
“It’s probably been my favourite place to play. They had the sun, sea and beaches, but I also loved the people and how they went about life. They have a respect for each other, what they eat and their bodies. It was a really good experience.
“The environment was very relaxed and they put a lot of emphasis on the local guys. They use the local guys as the main players on the team, with the imports there to fill the other spots. I think that’s a difference between Morocco and Europe. European teams look at their imports to be the main pieces of their teams, but it was the complete opposite out there. I guess that suited me.
“I was playing for the best side in the league and so our team were feared a little bit. We won three championships out of three – even the police had parties for us. We were playing in front of sell-out crowds with the flares there, court invasions and even dogs in the stands! It was pretty crazy looking back, but I’m really grateful to have experienced it.”
After a successful year on the African continent, Walker would play a year in France before returning to England with the Leicester Riders. A team very much on the up having moved into their new home this year, and competing on all fronts in the BBL.
“It’s been a no-brainer having an opportunity to come back to the UK this year.
“Coach Rob & the guys have been great for me. I’ve been welcomed with open arms. It’s a real family atmosphere. There are players here that have been here for ten years or more, some who have gone away but always come back.
“We’ve won one trophy so far but to be honest we have a burning desire to win more because we feel that it should be two trophies.
“We lost the cup final in January and we need to make amends for it. We are all pretty motivated to do that.
“You put in a lot of work during the week and when game day comes we get pretty fired up in the locker room. When I look back on my career so far they are the experiences I want to remember.”
The toll of life on the road and missing home comforts would be sure to be a factor but for the ambitious Walker, he knew that move nearer home would present itself an opportunity to help inspire the next generation through on their journeys.
“I needed some time back in England to see my friends and family. Playing abroad can be isolating sometimes. It’s good for me to spend time with my mum after games and see familiar faces in the crowd supporting me.
“I’ve had a great journey in basketball so far, and I want to share my experiences abroad with the young guys here coming through. Especially around the area where I grew up. Hopefully I can inspire some of them to push on and achieve their dreams.”