CJ Walker showing Ohio State men's basketball will go as far as he can lead them
Chris Holtmann has pinned Ohio State’s chances for success this season on CJ Walker’s 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame.
A fifth-year senior, Florida State transfer and team captain, Walker might occasionally lead the Buckeyes in scoring. He might hit a big shot or set up his teammates for baskets. The biggest priority, though, is for him to lead the team at both ends of the court.
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After challenging Walker to give more following last Sunday’s closer-than-expected win against UMass Lowell, Holtmann got what he wanted from the captain in Wednesday night’s 77-44 blowout of Morehead State at the Covelli Center. Walker finished with 11 points while playing a game-high 33 minutes, but it was his best Superman impression that gave Holtmann what he was really looking for.
Walker’s full-extension dive for a ball he had tipped loose during the final minutes of the first half had his coach and teammates raving afterward.
“When people look at CJ Walker and say, ‘Wow, he is a really good player, what they’re saying is that kind of stuff,’ ” Holtmann said. “He sets the tone defensively. He plays with pace on offense. He’s tough. He’s taking charges. He’s communicating. That has to continue to define him on a consistent level.”
Walker came through on both ends during one sequence. Four seconds after he stole the ball from reserve guard KJ Hunt, Walker drilled a three-pointer at the other end to push Ohio State’s lead to 17-9 near the midpoint of the first half. He would finish with three steals, one shy of his career high, to go with four rebounds, four assists and just one turnover.
Through three games, he has a three-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio.
Walker's elevated play is why Morehead State coach Preston Spradlin said he prepared for forward Justice Sueing’s scoring ability but was primarily concerned with Walker while devising a game plan against the Buckeyes.
“I told our guys he’s going to be the toughest point guard we play all year,” Spradlin said. “Great mentality. Runs the team well. He can make shots. He really can guard the ball. CJ is a big catalyst for what Chris’ team is going to be able to do.”
Walker was not made available for interviews after the game.
“He brings it for us every game,” senior forward Kyle Young said. “We look to him for leadership all the time. The way he competed and was making it tough for them offensively and running our offense, he did a really good job.”
The key for Ohio State is getting that on a nightly basis. On a team with multiple players either assuming new roles or growing into bigger ones, Walker is being asked to essentially pick up where he left off last season when he averaged 8.7 points and had 107 assists and 54 turnovers for a ratio just short of two to one.
Those numbers don’t include the ways in which he’s being asked to lead. When Walker is doing everything the Buckeyes need, it’s evident. And when he’s not, that’s also evident. Sophomore forward E.J. Liddell called him “one of the biggest glue guys” he’s ever met.
“When people say he’s a really good point guard at this level, it’s all of those (little) things,” Holtmann said. “When he gets away from that, he’s not who we believe he is, which is he can be really special when he does those things.”