Dating back to his early days in the NBA with the Boston Celtics, Henry (formerly Bill) Walker has always been somewhat of a wild child. Such a reputation followed him to his next stint with the New York Knicks. While he may not have always been the instigator, trouble constantly appeared to follow him, as evidenced in altercations with teammates (like Shawne Williams) and oppositions (like Kevin Garnett).
Nevertheless, Walker appeared to hit his stride for New York during the 2009-10 season. As the Knicks cleaned house and prepared for a massive overhaul the forthcoming summer (much like they are now), Walker received an unique opportunity with ample playing time, averaging 11.9 points through 29 contests.
But alas, it wasn't just a short fuse or excessive trash talking that cut his days in The Association short. Ongoing injuries also derailed his hopes on building on such evident success. Walker was waived by the Knicks in April of 2012, just shy of the postseason, after an elbow surgery ousted him from the rotation despite returning thereafter.
Nearly two years later in early April of 2014, Walker was in the D-League, strutting his stuff for the Sioux Falls Skyforce. His short fuse on the hardwood peaked its ugly head once again, when the swingman was suspended for one game after spitting his gum at an opposing player. Whereas some NBA vets use the minor league as a platform to build a case for a second chance, it appeared to be more of the same old story with Walker.
Later in the year, Walker had a couple skirmishes while playing internationally with the Alaska Aces.
When he re-joined the Skyforce at the beginning of this season, casual fans may not have expected anything to change.
But something seemingly changed when Phil Weber, a familiar advocate of Walker's while he was an assistant with the Knicks, assumed head coaching duties in Sioux Falls.
Fast-forward to March of 2015, and Walker not only excelled in the minor league, but also most recently parlayed two ten-day contracts with the affiliated Miami HEAT into a gig for the rest of the season.
Offering a glimpse into Walker's progression and latest success, Coach Weber told RidiculousUpside.com, "I think I had a real advantage. Henry is really focused this year. It's all about Henry. But I think I had a real advantage going into it, only because of my experience [with him]. We had good times in New York and he knew that I believed in him as a player. There was already a comfort level heading into the season. He was really focused and just did everything right. I think life is funny. It throws some curves at you. [Henry] was hit with some curves and probably didn't handle them as well in the past couple years."
Still, Walker was kept in high regard, even before displaying this increasingly evident added maturity. Coach Weber added, "There was a lot of talk around him going into the season. I really believed in him as a player. He's done a lot of work on himself. He worked hard to earn his shot."
What's been the motivation for such a change? Why now? What gives? Coach Weber continued, asserting, "It's amazing. There's a bigger picture. He's taken it upon himself and has taken responsibility as a young man. He's organized his priorities differently. Right now, one of his biggest priorities is his daughter. He's really just evolved as a person. He [was] one of our best pure in spirit guys; willing to do things the right way. Henry really helped our team as a locker-room voice from the players' side. I can't even tell you how much of a total joy it's been to share this with him."
Still, the foundation to break out like this was seemingly put in place long ago, nonetheless. Doug Eberhardt, a part-time basketball coach (and contributor on SB Nation NBA) who spent time with the Knicks while Walker donned orange and blue, added prospective, saying, "I always liked Henry. He was a nice guy. Great conversationalist. He was great in the video room, because he was always so eager to learn."
In addition to pointing out that he was one of the best players in the country coming out of high school, Eberhardt discussed what made Walker successful early on with New York, asserting, "He was great in Mike [D'Antoni's] system. He can play the off-guard really well and defend a number of different positions."
Coach Weber agrees, and even says that such versatility is something that's helping Walker at this point in Miami.
"Because of his skill to size ratio, he was put into situations where he was guarding bigger players. We would have him as a two/three [in New York], but [in Sioux Falls], he was kind of a three/four. What that did for him was further activate his toughness and how to use it," the Skyforce coach added. "He's a very versatile player. He's a high basketball IQ type of player. This put him in a situation where he was tasked with learning different things."
Continuing, Weber concluded, "Henry is all about making sacrificing. He is so willing to guard up, that it gives Coach [Erik] Spoelstra that flexibility to know he is okay with it. Some players aren't okay with it. We always marvel at it, because if you're willing to guard up on defense, it usually ends up helping you offensively. Henry has got that in spades. He's ready to do whatever. To me, he's a dangerous player. If he's guarding a four in the NBA, the HEAT can do more with him offensively. His defender is now not used to guarding a player quite like him."
"Henry is kind of like a swiss army knife," he said in closing.
That's quite a compliment for a player that's been in and out of the league in recent years, but Eberhardt shared the sentiment by revealing, "I think based on the ups and downs he's had through his professional career, Henry's basketball IQ is something that may go underrated at times."
Clearly a veteran who is capable of scoring in bunches at the NBA level, Walker has gone on to make immediate contributions for the HEAT. Despite experiencing a shooting slump most recently, he's made his presence felt in other valuable ways. The 27 year old is averaging 8.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.2 steals in nearly 27 minutes through 11 contests. Clearly, Miami trusts him, and with good reason.Having been in Sioux Falls, Walker is already familiar with the team's system.
He's had an interesting journey thus far, but perhaps more importantly, Walker has displayed a very special maturity, not only in his game, but in himself as a man. Kudos to Miami for seeing through the ups and downs and giving him another shot.
Walker may still be a little edgy on the court. After all, he's already earned himself one ejection this season. Still, such passion can be put to good use if channeled correctly. According to the likes of Weber and Eberhardt, the potential for Walker to do so has arguably always been there.
It's a special time in Walker's career, not only because he's back in The Association, but also because he's finally getting to show the rest of the NBA world what others saw in him long ago; a continued potential, determination, and capability to compete at such a high level, amid flaws and previous mistakes in all.
Not sure anyone else could ask for much more.