State Colleges

Butler's Walker evolves

Caleb Walker keeps searching. Search, work, study and play. This is his life.

The finite thing that still drives him is still out there somewhere.

When they meet, he'll be ready.

"There are guys that are more athletic than me, that are better players than me," Walker said. "So I have to adjust. I have to work harder. Because eventually you'll run into them."

Eventually. Just maybe not this year.

Walker, a 6-foot-4 sophomore wing for Butler, has answered all challenges in his time with the Grizzlies, earning honorable-mention All-Jayhawk Conference Western Division honors last year, then turning that into this season's breakout campaign, averaging 16.4 points and 8 rebounds on his way to Jayhawk West player of the year honors.

The Hutchinson native has also helped revive a once-proud Butler program, leading the Grizzlies to a 26-5 record and the West title. Butler, ranked No. 15 in the latest NJCAA Division I poll, plays Cloud County (16-14) on Saturday in the Region VI quarterfinals at Koch Arena.

"Caleb's approach is really what sets him apart," said Butler coach Mike Bargen. "It's him understanding what he needs to get better at, then attacking that. He doesn't waste time worrying about what might be, he just goes to work."

Walker came to Butler as a two-sport star, but once he set aside his football aspirations, he began to blossom as a basketball player.

"I think his love was really basketball to begin with," Bargen said. "Once he put away the helmet, you could really see him zero in on being the best basketball player he could be."

Already blessed with the ability to deliver rim-rattling dunks — Walker stuck a piece of paper to the top of the square during summer workouts — Walker focused in on ball-handling and learning to guard smaller players.

"I think his game translates really well to the next level because he can defend guards and he can defend guys two or three inches taller than him," Bargen said.

Walker committed to Nebraska on Monday, picking the Cornhuskers over Creighton, Northern Iowa, Evansville and Loyola-Chicago. There was even late interest from Minnesota and Mississippi.

"It's always been a dream of mine to play in the Big 12, so this is a great opportunity," Walker said. "I'll get a great education and get to play in probably the best conference in the nation. And no more recruiting headaches, so I can focus on winning Region VI."

Newman plays today — The Newman men's team takes on St. Mary's today in the semifinals of the Heartland Conference Tournament at San Antonio.

The Jets (18-9), making their first postseason appearance on the NCAA Division II level, are the No. 2 seed in the tournament and are led by second-team all-Heartland picks Keaton Schultz and Jaray Mathews.

Schultz averages 14.1 points per game and leads all of Division II in three-point shooting, hitting 51.4 percent of his attempts.

Mathews, the Heartland co-defensive player of the year, led the league with 8.3 rebounds per game.