It’s easy to spot CJ Walker on a basketball court. He consistently brings energy and enthusiasm to the Seminoles. But it’s his mindset off the court that separates him from others.
Born in Alaska, Walker grew up in Indiana — a state known for its tradition of basketball – a sport that has always been Walker’s true love.
“It’s always been basketball,” Walker said. “Honestly, I played and was pretty decent at football until I got injured. After I got injured, I was just basketball.”
The 6-1 guard began playing basketball at a young age. While the competition elevated his game, Walker credits his dad for getting him started.
“He started me out really young,” Walker said. “I remember baby pictures of me with a basketball. It’s always been kind of like an influence for my dad. My dad played and then he came back to take care of our family. My dad is the main one to get me into basketball.”
Thanks to his dad and the natural love for the game, Walker developed into a standout at Arsenal Tech High School in Indianapolis.
Walker helped lead Arsenal Tech to the Indiana State Championship as a sophomore. More than his performance in the tournament, it’s the leadership Walker received from one particular teammate that he remembers most.
During his first two years at Arsenal, Walker was a teammate of former Kentucky and current Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles. At the time, Lyles was a top college prospect who also played a role in mentoring Walker.
“I learned a lot from Trey,” Walker said. “At first I was kind of nervous, just knowing he was one of the top prospects in the country. I learned a lot from him and his experience during the recruiting process, especially with him decommitting and me decommitting. I asked him questions on how he dealt with things and how he made his decision. He was a really good teammate, really good guy off the floor.”
Walker would take the leadership lessons he learned from Lyles and put matters into his own hands. His teammates voted him the team captain his senior year. Walker averaged 24.6 points per game and was a finalist for the Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana.
While making the game look easy on the court at Arsenal Tech, determining which college program would land Walker’s talents was another story. Entering his senior season, he narrowed his choices to Purdue, Illinois, Butler and Florida State.
Walker verbally committed to Purdue but reopened his recruiting process just before his senior year began and Florida State became the front runner for his services.
“My decision to attend Florida State had to do with Coach (Leonard) Hamilton and Coach (Dennis) Gates,” Walker said. “I felt like our relationship was really strong. We connected really well when I came on visits. Then with the team I felt like they were my brothers and that I’d known them forever.”
Taking the connection he felt at Florida State, Walker instantly made an impact on and off the court as a freshman.
As part of Florida State’s renowned ‘boom squad,’ Walker enjoyed a great deal of success as a freshman. The boom squad – which consisted of a talented group of reserve players – quickly became known for its high-energy play that identified the Seminoles as one of the deepest teams in the nation.
Walker averaged 12.5 minutes and 4.9 points per game. Taking what he learned from Arsenal Tech, the intangibles allowed Walker to enjoy his inaugural collegiate season.
Leadership, energy and passion are the aspects of his game that Walker prides himself on the most. In his first year, Walker stood out among his teammates because of those traits.
Walker loves to keep his team loose. Whether it is dancing around the locker room, making an effort to hang out with teammates, or setting the energy level for the team, Walker makes his presence felt.
“That’s really who CJ is,” fellow freshman Trent Forrest said. “He’s always around everybody, likes to hang out with everybody, and he is really just a good person. He’s a great teammate and gets along well with everybody. That’s just who he is.”
His leadership qualities have not only rubbed off on his teammates, but to the coaches as well.
“CJ is vocal, has internal and external toughness, has confidence, has personality, and loves to compete,” said assistant coach Dennis Gates. “Most importantly, his passion is contagious. He brings the best out of the entire program from top to bottom. He brings the best of me as a coach.”
With guards Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Dwayne Bacon both playing professional basketball, the opportunity to become a starter for the Seminoles during the upcoming season has Walker very excited.
The idea of being a true leader this upcoming season for the team is what keeps him motivated.
“Being a leader for this team is a challenge I am looking forward to during the upcoming season,” Walker said. “I want to help the freshmen, show them what college basketball is about and make sure they can handle the challenges of their first years. I want to be one of the players on our team to be there to help them. Taking that leadership role is important to me and I can’t wait for practice to start.”
Walker believes that through the experiences he and his teammates learned from last year, the team can be even better this year.
“I feel like we can win games, win big games, be able to win on the road, be able to make shots like we did last year, and be an overall good team again. I’m just excited, honestly more excited this year than last year.”
By Blake Voncannon
Florida State Sports Information Student Intern