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West Aurora's Jontrell Walker averaged 17.4 points a year ago and will take on even more of a leadership role for the Blackhawks this season. | Brian Powers/For Sun-Times Media
It’s year 38, day one, correct?
“Possibly,” Gordie Kerkman says with a shrug of his shoulders and a smile. “That’s probably right.”
The veteran West Aurora basketball coach, who has compiled a 759-299 record in 37 seasons leading the Blackhawks, is ensconced in his inner sanctum Monday afternoon, one floor below West’s gym. In less than an hour, 27 candidates for the varsity basketball team will report for a new season’s first day of practice.
Relaxed in the high-back office chair in his cluttered office, Kerkman is studying — what else — game tape. Last Thanksgiving’s Rock Island Tournament game with Bogan is playing on a flat screen television perched atop a cart in the middle of the room.
Preparation never ends, it seems, for this successful, 70-something coach who ranks No. 7 on the state’s all-time win list.
It’s his 52nd year overall coaching at the school. A few minutes later, senior guard Jontrell Walker smiles when the numbers are repeated. What do they mean?
“He knows what he’s talking about. It starts with a W [for winner],” says Walker, a talented guard who is preparing for his fourth varsity season.
The last two have ended with trips to the Hinsdale Central Supersectional, where the Blackhawks bowed out to Proviso East both years.
West losses four senior starters from last year.
“[Kerkman’s] coached the best ... “ continues Walker. “He knows what to do in situations so you gotta believe and trust in him during the game and during crunch time when he tells you to do something.”
Walker averaged 17.4 points a year ago and will take on even more of a leadership role this season.
“Well, he better,” said Kerkman, noting that while his team lost a lot to graduation there are several younger players back who gained valuable experience, including Matt Dunn and Roland Griffin.
On Wednesday, Walker will sign a national letter of intent to play basketball on scholarship next season at the University of the Incarnate Word, a Division II school that's transitioning to D-I. He’s come a long way.
“Freshman year, I was just trying to fit in and trying to make this team,” he said. “I wasn’t that big and I didn’t talk that much. I was just trying to be in the game and not mess up running the offense.
“This year, I have to be more of a leader, more of how I looked at Juwan [Starks] my freshman and sophomore years.”
He’s come to know Kerkman well.
“I pretty much know what he’s thinking and what he wants and what he expects,” said Walker.
“There’s a lot to live up to [playing for West] You’ve got the target on your back but you like playing with that target. Playing under [Kerkman], you learn something new every day.”
While Kerkman is demanding, players who mature and grow, learn to play within the system and not as robots, said Walker.
The past two years have been fun for Kerkman, who went four straight without a regional crown before that.
“It was very satisfying. Both years we were a fourth seed and both years all four top seeds made it to the sectional and we were fortunate to win them both,” he said.
“Had we played as hard and intense throughout the year as we did at the end, we probably could have won a couple conference championships. But I think we finished very good and the kids put out good effort.”