Winston-Salem, N.C. - Wake Forest's Ty Walker now knows the meaning of grace after he was given a second chance. Monday, July 11 Walker was suspended for the fall semester along with ex-Demon Deacon Melvin Tabb for violating the University's student code of conduct.
"I'm humbled by it, and feel very, very blessed," Walker said. "It was pretty much up in the air whether or not I was going to be back. By the grace of God and the coaches sticking their neck out on the line for me that I'm back here, and I greatly appreciate it. I'm just focused on Wake Forest Basketball, just trying to be the best person, the best teammate possible."
Walker cannot play till Dec. 10 at Seton Hall, but the senior is not letting that keep him from helping his team.
The Wilmington product said he has a changed mindset, and is a new Ty Walker.
"There's a sense of urgency, because his clocking is ticking," Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "I think we all tend to sometimes take [it] for granted. Well you know what you're ineligible for the first semester. You're a senior. Guess what? There's not very many more games left. You better play your tail off. You better understand that the clock is ticking."
Walker has worked his tail off, spending more time working out with new strength and conditioning coach Greg Brittenham.
"He said he sees Tim Duncan, Marcus Camby, Amare Stoudemire in terms of athleticism, so he wants to bring that out, and he has," Walker said. "Just worked me outside of my comfort zone in terms of footwork, running, strength overall. He's done a very good job."
It is going to take more than lifting weights and running for Walker to make the cut for that pantheon of greats he mentioned.
Coming out of high school in 2008 the 7-foot and 230-pound big man was rated by Rivals.com as the nation's No. 17 overall prospect and No. 2 center, but has never reached that projected level of potential.
During last year's abysmal 8-24 season Walker only averaged 3.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 18.1 minutes per game.
"My goal is just to be the best player possible, just be as active as possible, play as hard as possible at all times," Walker said. "Coach always stresses to me if you play with unbridled energy you can easily average 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks a game. I firmly believe that."
Despite an anemic stat sheet throughout his collegiate career the Deacs will miss his size and defensive presence the first seven games this season.
"He's very athletic," Wake Forest forward Travis McKie said. "He blocks a lot of shots, he runs the floor. We always have to account for him when he's on the floor. It's going to hurt, but we can't worry about that now. We have to worry about how we're going to win those games when he's not there. When he gets there we have to bring him back into the flow of things, and try to accustom him back to the life."
As difficult his absence is going to be for his team early in the season, one can only imagine how painful it will be for Walker. Some may think he is just fortunate he was given another chance, and just suspended through the fall semester's games. Waiting to receive the final verdict from July 11 to Sept. 2 was very hard for him.
"I was somewhat isolated," Walker said. "They took me out of summer school, because they didn't want what was going on to affect my school work. My grades were already good from summer one. It was a rough seven weeks. I'm definitely happy to be back here around the guys."
His teammates did not abandon him while he was shunned from the program during his suspension. Freshman forward Daniel Green kept in contact with Walker, frequently checking on him along with other players.
"Me and Ty are really good friends," Green said. "I consider him more as a brother now. I've been telling him, 'You just got to keep pushing through. I'm always here for you.' He's got my back. I got his back, and one thing I keep telling him is, 'Keep your head up, and things will get easier as the days go by.'"
In turn Walker has used the pain of his suspension to pass wisdom down to his understudy. Walker tells Green that he must cherish and make the most of his time, because nothing is guaranteed.
Since nothing is guaranteed Bzdelik wants to help Walker make the most of the time he has left.
"Ty Walker is a young man that just needs to have confidence himself, and that comes from me instilling confidence in him," Bzdelik said. "I'm going to do my very best instilling confidence in him. All I can do is give him my best effort to bring out the very best in him regardless of how many games he may have left in his college career. That is my job as a coach, and I'm going to do the very best job I can all the way to the end."
Though it is just the beginning of preseason practice Bzdelik has noticed a different approach from his senior center, and said that it is a positive one.
Walker now knows who is in charge, appears to have fully bought into what his coach is preaching, and his using the rest of his suspension as a motivational tool.
"It's like fuel to the fire to sit out, knowing that you're just sitting there already when I was suspended from the team I can't believe I'm away from my guys, letting my guys down," Walker said. "That builds up a fire, builds up just that anger inside you that you just want to release it all out on the basketball court. It's fuel to the fire. It just motivates me even more to get better."