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West Aurora's Jontrell Walker dribbles to the net during their supersectional game against Proviso East at Hinsdale Central High School on Tuesday, March 12, 2013. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Youth will be served on the basketball court this winter on the west side of Aurora, where the Blackhawks lost five of their top seven players to graduation.
“We’ve got a long way to go. For a lot of guys it’s their first time getting varsity experience,” said Jontrel Walker, a grizzled veteran who is the lone returning senior with considerable varsity playing time.
A 6-foot guard, Walker has started at the point for coach Gordie Kerkman since his freshman season and last year led the team in scoring with a 17.4 average, lifting the Blackhawks to the Hinsdale Supersectional in the Class 4A playoffs for the second straight season.
“I’m trying to be a leader, teach them what to do in certain situations, how to handle everything,” he said Friday afternoon, shortly after the Blackhawks had opened the 9th Annual Hoops Mountain West Shootout they host by dispatching Lakes in their opening game.
Roland Griffin, a 6-3 swingman, and 5-8 guard Matt Dunn got more experience off the bench last year as sophomores than the other four players in Walker’s junior class: Brandon Wyeth, Konner Jensen, Keith Jones and Tony Richardson.
Griffin and senior Matt Williams were usually first or second off the bench, with Dunn likely the third player off the bench spelling Walker or his backcourtmate Jayquan Lee. West also loses starters Josh McAuley and twins Chandler and Spencer Thomas to graduation.
“We’re pretty small right now,” said Walker, noting that 6-7 Carleton Williams, who played up as a freshman with the sophomore team last winter, has not participated in any summer ball yet this year.
“I think he’s in Florida visiting his father,” Walker said. “But he’s coming back.”
Griffin could be key.
“He has a lot of potential. He can be our second-best player, he can do a lot,” said Walker, who doled out 3.0 assists-per-game last season and shot 39 percent (53-of-137) from beyond the 3-point line and 81 percent (119-of-147) from the free throw line.
“(Griffin) has got to get it going and get his confidence where it should be and then he’s gotta be a player.”
Despite his seniority, Walker doesn’t think he’ll have to carry the team.
“(Kerkman) is gonna let me play but I have to make sure it’s through the system and through the offense,” he said. “We pretty much want to set the play up and make sure everybody gets a touch and then go from there.”
Later this summer, Walker’s focus will shift to recruiting when he rejoins his AAU team, Illinois Basketball Academy Select, for two big tournaments in July, one in Las Vegas and one in Wisconsin.
It’s his third year playing on the Naperville-based team that is coached by Moraine Valley Community College coach Dadrick Shannon and includes Benet’s 6-9 Sean O’Mara, Naperville Central’s Nick Czarnowski and Waubonsie Valley’s 6-6 Jack Cordes.
“We’ve been together for three years now,” said Walker, who noted he’s drawn recruiting calls from NCAA Division I schools Rice, Tulsa, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota, Albany and Stony Brook.
Walker has received a number of letters, but no calls, from Marquette.
“I don’t have any offers yet, but I’m hoping (to get some) in July, that’s the big month,” he said. “I may go to Rice (in Houston) next week for an elite camp. I’d like to get some offers and see where it goes. It depends on what I get and where they may come from. I’m not in a hurry (to sign before his senior season starts).
“I’ll wait it out and see what happens.”