Henryville’s senior standout is a team player on and off the court.
By Kristin Kleinert | Photos by Darryl Middleton
On Nov. 21, just four days shy of his 18th birthday,
Nicholas “Nick” Briceson Walker will take the court for the first home game of his final year of high school basketball.
That night he’s set to hit the 1000-point mark for career points scored (he’s only nine away) and,
before the season concludes in February, he’ll most-likely rank in the top five of almost every basketball stat kept at his high school in Henryville.
But folks, he doesn’t tell me any of that.
I sit with Nick in a quiet gym on a Thursday morning during his fall break. Going in, I already know he’s a huge part of his team’s successes over the last few years and that he’s expected to have a great upcoming season. I know there are multiple colleges interested in him and that he’ll be working to bolster that interest over the next few months. But I quickly learn there’s a better chance of me winning this year’s NBA dunk contest than getting Walker to boast about himself. Throughout our time together, he looks me in the eye and calls me “ma’am.” His listens thoughtfully to my questions and answers earnestly, but the word he uses more than any other is: TEAM. He works it into almost every sentence.
It goes something like:
ME: “Tell me about your goals for this season.”
NICK: “I want the team to win the sectional tournament.”
ME: “Ok. But tell me about a personal goal. Something you want for you.”
NICK: “I want us to win the sectional. My team and me.”
And the conversation continues in this manner. I ask questions about the individual, and Walker gives responses that include his team. He is not uncooperative by any means, but quietly turns the conversation toward his team every chance he gets. It’s organic and sincere, and I have to think about it afterward before it even becomes obvious to me Nick Walker is simply humble.
Though he always had a ball in his hand from an early age, Nick actually began by watching the sport as a spectator at a local youth league. “My friend played at Graceland and I’d go and watch,” Walker remembers. “His coach wanted to start a travel ball team, and he asked me to join. I got to play with guys like Romeo (Langford) and Cobie (Barnes).”
His love of the game solidified, and Nick joined the basketball program at Henryville Elementary School in 5th grade (the first eligible opportunity offered in his hometown). Since that time, Nick has been a favorite among his coaches and an asset to the program.
When Walker entered high school in 2014, Henryville’s varsity basketball was in transition with a new coach and hadn’t experienced any success in some time. In fact, the Hornets had only won a total of three games over a two-year period. Nick was an instant boost to his teammates that year, starting every varsity game but one.
“Nick’s first varsity season – my first season – we won nine games,” said Henryville High School boys varsity basketball coach Jared Hill. “It was still technically a losing season for us, but it was a huge improvement over where the team had been the two years previous. Nick Walker was definitely part of the reason for that growth.”
Of course I only learn this information from Coach Hill, as Nick tells me very little about his personal contributions at all. Instead, he briefly reports on his disappointment in the losses that first year and his pride in the team when they came together to create successful winning records in the following two.
“The times when your team has been working on something together and it’s effective – when you’re all having fun – that’s probably my favorite thing about basketball,” Nick admits.
What Nick’s team cultivated during his sophomore and junior years was definitely “effective.” In fact, the Hornets’ 2016-2017 season saw 19 wins, breaking the school’s record for most regular season victories.
I glean more information from Coach Hill about Nick Walker, the individual. I learn he is a good student and popular among his peers. His teachers often ask if he is as quiet at ball practice as he is in their classes. He adores his family and is a doting big brother to his little sister, Maya. And when it comes to basketball? Nick is a gem.
“All the guys know, if all else fails, give it to Nick. His ability to make plays – successful plays – is one of his greatest strengths,” Hill remarked with pride, then added: “Now, if we could just get him to quit being so unselfish all the time.”
In last year’s Ted Throckmorton Memorial Tournament at Jeffersonville High School, Nick scored 114 points in four games against some of Kentuckiana’s top teams, making the all-tournament team as the leading scorer overall. This summer, he was honored to participate in the prestigious Indiana’s Top 100 Workout at Ben Davis High School. And the buzz from college coaches is getting intense. (Of course, Nick didn’t tell me any of that.)
I head out of the gym, excited about what the future holds for Nick. He’s a remarkable young man and a talented athlete. Next fall, he plans to become an asset to a new team, this time at the university level, while working toward becoming the first in his family to become a college graduate.
As I’m leaving, I run into physical education teacher John Bradley and ask him about Nick. Bradley is a former high school basketball coach and still loves the game, so of course I’m expecting something basketball-related.
“In all my years of teaching, in all the classes I’ve had, I’ve never had a kid who wants to involve every student – every single one of them – the way Nick Walker does,” Bradley tells me.
I’m interested but surprised that his comment has nothing to do with Nick’s skills on the court. He seems to notice and elaborates: “Every P.E. class has kids that are hesitant, maybe because they’re less-athletic kids or students with special physical needs. But Nick put in whatever effort it took to make sure every kid didn’t just participate but wanted to do so. I’ve just never had a student who could make the whole class join in like he did.”
He pauses, then adds, “It’s just something that stood out to me and it says a whole lot about the kind of person that young man is.”
But folks, Nick Walker’s not going to tell you any of that.