Men’s basketball | Ohio State’s CJ Walker enjoying down time to be a dad
CJ Walker is accustomed to having a significant to-do list every morning.
The addition of repeated YouTube viewings of “CoComelon” is a new twist for the Ohio State basketball player.
Currently living in Indianapolis during the coronavirus pandemic, the OSU guard entering his senior season is firmly embracing the life of a full-time father while waiting to eventually rejoin his Buckeyes teammates.
While his girlfriend of five-plus years, Heaven Battle, continues her job in customer service, the daytime role of parenting their 9-month-old Summer falls on Walker’s shoulders.
It’s a role he said he has gladly accepted after the stress of being three hours apart for most of her life until this point. Even if that means memorizing every nursery-rhyme song from the “CoComelon” collection because it helps soothe Summer.
“That’s a little me,” Walker said in a telephone interview. “She looks just like me in a lot of ways, so that’s just my little person. That’s my little best friend.”
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The abrupt cancellation of college sports and Ohio State’s decision to close campus in light of the pandemic has meant significant changes to reality for members of all OSU athletics teams. Among the men’s basketball team, Walker’s has just been arguably the most pronounced.
While playing for the Buckeyes, he said, the Indianapolis native was able to make the trip home maybe two or three times a month to see his girlfriend and daughter.
Now, Walker is continuing his coursework online, staying in constant contact with his coaches and teammates and cramming it all around the life of a parent required to spend his time inside the place he shares with Battle.
“Now that I’m here, it’s helped me a lot to get perspective on how real parenting is,” he said. “It’s been a great adjustment for me to be unselfish, to open up and build a relationship with my daughter to make sure that I’m always there for her.”
When the Big Ten tournament was canceled and Ohio State’s players dispersed from their hotel in downtown Indianapolis, Walker didn’t have far to go. He was home within minutes and has not been back to Columbus since the tournament was postponed on March 11.
The abrupt end to the season — the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments were canceled the next day — started to hit Walker as he rode the hotel escalator to the ground floor after the final team meal of the season. He said his feelings centered on disappointment and frustration that the Buckeyes wouldn’t get to realize whatever their potential might be.
“I feel like you would’ve seen a great defensive team, a team that played together that was going to come out ready to win and do what they had to do,” he said. “I felt like honestly we could’ve gone to a Final Four, just the way we were rolling and the momentum that we had.”
The silver lining is the extended family time. Walker said he is doing what he can to stay in shape, doing push-ups and sit-ups and running multiple times per week.
Entering his fifth year of college basketball — he sat out the 2018-19 season after transferring to Ohio State from Florida State — he will be expected to build upon his own strong finish to the season and continue his role as a team captain.
There will be a time for that. Right now, Walker said he is appreciating and cheering on his daughter while she works to take her first steps.
“I’m just trying to make the best of it,” he said. “I don’t usually get this much time with my family, so I’m just trying to enjoy that as much as possible.
“Not to say that I don’t miss the season. I really do miss it. I feel like we had a really good chance to make a run, but now I’m just trying to take advantage of this time.”