The Martin Luther King Day holiday weekend brought with it two stern tests for Rice's developing basketball team, and for the Raiders- and Walker in particular- it was an instructive jaunt.
In wins over Chicago Simeon Academy and Niagara Falls, the junior guard paired up with two of the more dynamic lead guards in the country in Derrick Rose and Johnny Flynn. It was his job to check, and to slow, two players whose speed and hyperkinetic burst set them apart from many others at their position, and two backcourt players that you'll likely be seeing in the McDonald's All-American game in Louisville in March.
The results were very encouraging.
In a 71-49 win over Niagara Falls at Hunter College in New York City on Monday, Walker's defense on Flynn, along with the Raiders' relentless defensive pressure as a team, were the overriding factors in the win.
After Flynn had scored 10 straight points for Niagara Falls in the second quarter, Walker and Rice put the clamps on him, limiting Flynn to six points after the half. He finished with 22 points. Walker finished with 17 points, six assists, eight rebounds, and three steals.
In defeating Simeon Academy 53-51 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden, Walker managed to keep Rose in check, limiting the Chicagoan to 22 points on 9-for-19 shooting. It was a performance that impressed the coaching staff at Memphis enough that they offered Walker a scholarship afterwards.
"I knew I could stand up to the test," said Walker. "I think I did a great job. I just wanted to stay focused, come out with intensity, and not be afraid."
"He was huge for us in these two games," said Rice coach Mo Hicks. "He's our catalyst. I think he did about as good of a job on those two guys as he could have. A reporter asked me about our schedule, and why we made it so difficult with a young team. We have a bunch of juniors, and I want them to play against the best. (For Walker), playing against Derrick Rose one day and Johnny Flynn the next, it doesn't get any tougher than that."
While Walker is a well-known commodity in New York, Hicks believes his performance this weekend legitimized him on a larger scale.
"He's proven that he's among the elite players at his position in the class," added Hicks. "As he's played against these quality, elite players, people have noticed."
His showing lent credence to his coach's comments. That's not to say he didn't have his hands full.
"It was two tough days," said Walker. "I think that (Monday) was tougher because Johnny Flynn ran more; he was just tougher to guard. He's faster (than Rose), and he kind of got me tired out there."
Hicks believes that Walker's recruitment is on the upswing. Walker had drawn feelers from major conference teams before this weekend, but others appear to be jumping on the bandwagon after his showing over the holiday.
"People are starting to understand," said Hicks. "Rutgers inquired, Providence asked about him (this weekend). Right now, Memphis- they offered him (Friday). They feel that Derrick Rose is a one year guy, and they want to bring him in next year.
"As far as recruiting, I think it will pick up. He's still got the summer ahead. I think you'll see more Big East, ACC schools (get involved)."
According to Walker, St. John's had already extended a scholarship offer, while others had previously expressed interest.
"Memphis, Cincinnati, Miami, St. John's. ... there are others," said Walker. "I haven't really thought about (recruiting) yet."
It was viewed as a breakout weekend for some, or at the least a vindication of a player whose value to his team isn't always easy to quantify. But in reality, despite the high-profile opponents, it was simply another day on the job, with Walker bringing his trademark chuztpa and telltale traits: the grunting intensity, the ever-running motor, and a defensive activity and awareness that render him seemingly everywhere at once.
And don't forget the swagger. "These were games that we should have won," said Walker.
Spoken like a true New Yorker.