Europe may become recipient of Valerie Walker's basketball talent
Piscataway, N.J. — So far in a brilliant eight-year basketball career Valerie Walker has collected almost 4,500 high school and college points, but things being what they are in the women's game, she may well have to go to Europe if she wants to continue playing after this season.
Averaging more than 22 points per game, the 6 ft. 1 in. senior at Cheyney State College in Pennsylvania is one of the game's premier players. She has led her team to a 23-2 record and the No. 2 national ranking and appears to be one of the top contenders for the Wade Trophy given annually to the country's top female collegiate performer.
But now that the short-lived Women's Basketball League has folded, the question is what comes next.
''I'm really not ready to stop playing basketball,'' the two-time All-America forward said recently in discussing her future.
''Everybody kept telling me not to look forward to the WBL, so I was very cautious about it,'' she added. ''But, I was really disappointed. It definitely would've been fun.''
The WBL temporarily suspended operations this season after four years of providing athletes with the opportunity of a postcollege career, albeit a financially insecure one. It was unfortunate timing because high schools and colleges, just realizing the fruits of their expanded women's programs, are producing superb players like Walker.
''Hopefully, I'll be able to go overseas and play like some other players have done,'' she said. ''I've heard the money is pretty good, and it doesn't hurt your amateur status. I'm looking forward to the 1984 Olympic Trials after missing the final cut last time.''
One player who opted for European play was Lynette Woodard, last year's Wade Trophy winner out of the University of Kansas. She now is in Italy. The award, named after Margaret Wade, former coach at Delta State of Mississippi, was initiated in 1978 when Carol Blazejowski of Montclair State of New Jersey was the recipient. Nancy Lieberman of Old Dominion won it the next two years. Walker , nominated for the second straight season, is one of 30 finalists for this year's prestigious prize, which will be awarded March 30.
''What can I say? The Wade is something I'd like to have, but I feel honored just being mentioned,'' said the New Jersey native recently before her Cheyney team defeated Rutgers, 67-53, in her hometown of Piscataway. ''I never thought basketball would ever bring me to where I am today.''
She was born in Atlantic City, the youngest of three children, and her family moved to Piscataway when she was in fourth grade. It was here that she started her athletic career - not in basketball, but in track and field. She still got back to her native seaside resort in the summer, however, and it was there that the seeds of a basketball future were planted.
''Every summer we'd visit my grandmother in Atlantic City and I'd join the playground games with my two brothers,'' said Walker, an honor student majoring in recreation and minoring in business. ''We'd play all day, all night, but I never thought about going out for the team. Then my first year at Piscataway (High School) my brother said, 'Why not go out for the team?' I liked it, played well, and ended up quitting track.''
So Piscataway lost a promising sprinter and high jumper, but got in exchange an all-state basketball center who amassed 2,039 points in her scholastic career. Highly recruited, Walker chose Cheyney State, the country's oldest public college founded for black students, when she met coach Vivian Stringer at a game in which the Wolves defeated nationally ranked Rutgers in 1978.
''Rutgers was my obvious choice, but I didn't want to be that close to home, '' said Walker, who also is thinking of going to graduate school and possibly coaching. ''Cheyney's always had winning seasons and I liked the coach a whole lot.''
Stringer made Walker a small forward, taking advantage of her recruit's inside and outside shooting abilities and she went on to become the nation's leading freshman scorer. The next year Valerie became the first sophomore in Cheyney's history to surpass the 1,000-point mark, and she reached the 2,000 -point plateau this past December during a holiday tournament at Madison Square Garden. Cheyney suffered its lone losses in that event, to Old Dominion and Rutgers.
When the Wolves recently turned the tables on Rutgers, Walker scored a game-high 18 points, passed for five assists, pulled in five rebounds, and executed three steals and one blocked shot. One six-point spurt demonstrated her versatility as she scored on a 17-foot baseline jumper from the right corner, hit an almost identical jumper from the left corner, then took a pass from Yolanda Laney and drove the lane for a layup and an early 30-16 Cheyney margin.
Valerie got an extra measure of enjoyment from this performance because it came in front of a hometown crowd that included her parents, Willie and Delores Walker, numerous childhood friends, and the current Piscataway High girls' team. Unfortunately, the brothers, who first introduced her to the sport, were unable to attend. Willie, the elder, is a cameraman for PM Magazine in Buffalo, N.Y., and Donald, a 1975 Piscataway High graduate who convinced Valerie to try out for the squad, is in the service in Turkey.
New Jersey has produced its share of women's basketball talent and this has not gone unnoticed by Coach Stringer. After Walker, she has wooed Rosetta Guilford, a 5 ft. 9 in. sophomore from Newark, Sharon Taylor, a 6 ft. 41/2 in. sophomore from Jersey City, and Paulette Bigelow, a 5 ft. 7 in. freshman from East Orange.
Walker is one of three New Jersey-bred nominees for the Wade Trophy. Junior Anne Donovan of Paramus Catholic High and Old Dominion may be her strongest competition, while junior Valerie Still of Cherry Hill East High and the University of Kentucky is another leading contender.