Oklahoma State basketball: Rondel Walker becoming more than just hounding defender
STILLWATER — Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton was patiently waiting in the Putnam West High School lobby at least five times the past few years.
Each time, nearly half an hour had passed since the Patriots played. Boynton was there to see his latest recruit, but gave him space until he was told it was fine to come back into the gym.
Rondel Walker was still working on the court with his father or a teammate each time Boynton showed up.
Shot after shot. Free throw after throw.
The goal was 400-500 shots and 100 free throws.
“He’s a really committed and dedicated kid to try to be his best,” Boynton said. “And that’s just one example of why he’ll continue to get better.”
Walker is still the one putting up extra shots, this time inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
After nearly each home game, win or lose, Walker emerges with a student manager and goes through his shooting routine.
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“The more I get up great shots, the better it is for myself and the team,” Walker said.
It’s that kind of dedication coupled with an old-school defensive approach that has made Walker a fan favorite entering his 12th collegiate game, a huge matchup with No. 6- ranked Kansas at 7 p.m. Tuesday inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
A 6-foot-4 guard, Walker won over fans early with his defensive abilities.
He’s a relentless defender who jumps passes and dives for loose balls with reckless abandon. It’s a style reminiscent of the Eddie Sutton days.
“His IQ on defense is tremendous,” transfer guard Bryce Williams said last month about Walker. “To be able to anticipate what’s going to happen before it happens, to know what an offensive player likes to do, it’s just little things like that we look at.”
Lately, it’s Walker’s offense that has started to shine.
He was a strong scorer in high school, capable of taking a game over on both ends of the floor. It’s not so easy as a freshman in the Big 12, but Walker is a quick study.
He’s scored in double figures in all but two of the Cowboys’ Big 12 games, including 12 points against West Virginia and 15 against Kansas State last week. Walker was a particular boost against the Wildcats with Cade Cunningham limited to just five points and three shots.
“He’s growing into a big-time Big 12 player,” Boynton said. “He’s got a lot of bright basketball ahead of him. He’s kinda like ‘The Forgotten Man’ in many ways. He and (Isaac Likekele) can somewhat get lost, but those guys have tremendous impact on both ends of the court because they play with such great energy.”
Boynton said in the preseason that Walker would be a big piece for the Cowboys.
Since, Walker has found his niche with a young team.
He’s the spark plug off the bench, a more-than-capable scoring threat and a fan favorite.
“I credit the coaching staff and my teammates for giving me that confidence coming in, that I was going to be called upon this year and that I needed to produce,” Walker said. “I feel like they pushed me to do better, so I pushed them to do better so it just makes that much easier for me to perform.”
Jacob Unruh covers college sports for The Oklahoman. You can send your story ideas to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jacobunruh. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.