Matthew Mitchell knows exactly what he’s looking for when he recruits a point guard.
There are a few traits, in particular, that the Kentucky Women’s Basketball head coach appears to seek out; impressive quickness, a nose for defense, and a motor that doesn’t know how to stop. Taylor Murray, Jaida Roper, and now Chasity Patterson, all exude those skills. Mitchell’s track record is stocked full of suffocating defenses, ones that are known to turn the opponent over at unprecedented rates. The point guard is his first line of defense. The first addition to Mitchell’s 2021 recruiting class is evidence he plans on maintaining that status.
Jada Walker fits the mold of the Lady Wildcats who have come before her. She’s a tad undersized at 5-foot-6 but more than makes up for it with a tireless work ethic–another common theme on the Mitchell point guard blueprint. Running the offense is one of her specialties and she handles the ball as if it’s attached to a yo-yo. The natural lefty is what some might label as a “true point guard”. A four-star recruit and the No. 63 player in the country according to ESPN, Walker will come to Kentucky with impressive shoes to fill, but with more than enough talent to make it a snug fit.
“If you could stay in the gym with her all day and all night, she would be in there with you,” Walker’s current head coach at Henrico High School out of Virginia, Lawrence Bray, told KSR about his star player. “She takes no plays off. And even in practice, just going through drills, she wants to do every drill hard and do it right, and you gotta love a player like that who’s gonna bring it. She rarely takes any off days.”
“Jada Walker is probably one of the hardest workers we ever had,” her former head coach at New Hope Academy, Sam Caldwell, said over the phone to KSR. “Smaller stature, but heart of a lion. She was first in everything, first in line drills, everything. It was one speed and it was a thousand miles an hour… You can’t teach a kid to play that hard. Jada played harder and competed harder than anybody in the gym.”
Both of Walker’s parents are basketball aficionados, and growing up around that lifestyle rubbed off on her from an early age. Her father always knows how to bring the best out of her and her mother provides her with meticulous tips. Not only have they made her a better all-around player, but they were also able to give her some direction when the time came to make a college decision. Walker only recently made her choice to join the ‘Cats but she’s no stranger to the spotlight; she has three impressive high school seasons under her waistband already.
In April of 2019, Walker made herself known to the rest of the recruiting world when she was named MVP of the GEICO National Championship Game as an up-and-coming sophomore. This was before she made the decision to move closer to home and play for Coach Bray at Henrico. At the time, she was headlining New Hope Academy out of Maryland, playing a team-high 32 minutes in the Championship game. New Hope managed to hold off St. Johns (DC) in the final game as Walker stuffed the box score with nine points, five rebounds, four assists, and four steals.
Some players don’t necessarily track their own stats, but Walker does so in a more calculated manner. She believes that she needs to know how to do everything on the floor and she wants her stats to reflect that. She prides herself on being able to haul in double-digit rebounds amongst the taller players. Walker still needs another 1,010 points to break the 3,000-point mark for her high school career, but she plans to at least try. It’s not about gathering as many stats as possible, it’s about setting those numbers as achievable goals. There is no chip on her shoulder.
“This year I’ve been trying to work on getting rebounds and filling every stat that usually doesn’t get filled,” Walker told KSR. “I was trying to get all my stats together. This year my goal is to get 3,000 points.”
After transferring from New Hope to Henrico, she played in only nine regular-season games for the Virginia-based school, but posted multiple triple-doubles and, rumor has it, barely missed out on an elusive quadruple-double in the first round of the playoffs. In less than half-a-season with Henrico, Walker led her team to the program’s first state tournament appearance since 2000. She averaged roughly 27 points per game as a junior and expectations are just as high–if not higher–for her senior year.
But averaging 27 points once she gets to Kentucky isn’t going to come as naturally, especially with the talent already ahead of her. There will be a plethora of veteran ball handlers surrounding her, including Rhyne Howard and Jazmine Massengill along with incoming freshman Treasure Hunt. Those three alone–all over six-feet in height–will control the majority of the offense going forward. Fitting in early-on with high-level scorers could be a challenge for someone used to being in control, but it’s a challenge that Walker is looking forward to.
“There’s a lot of good players at Kentucky and they play at such a high level,” Walker added. “And I’m used to playing with guards at high levels because my mom coached college players, so I used to work out with them and they would challenge me. So when I get to college I already know it’s going to be a challenge but I think I’ll be prepared for it because I’ve been doing it all my high school career.”
Even if she has to play off the ball as a complementary piece to someone such as Howard, who is the reigning SEC Player of the Year, Walker knows she can thrive. And she’s not the only one. Coach Bray eased her into his Henrico team this past season, starting her in more of an off-ball role before giving her the keys to the offense. Walker has been improving her outside shooting knowing that she might need to play as a spot-up shooter in some situations when she gets to the next level.
“I don’t really take a lot of 3s just because I’m so fast and I can easily get by defenders,” Walker admitted. “But I know at the next level that’s not going to work because everybody is tall and strong and older so I’ll really need to work on my outside shot.”
Walker is built for the playstyle of the SEC, too. The conference is known for a fast tempo and no team the last two seasons has exemplified that better than Kentucky. If Walker can’t muster up points on her own, her quickness combined with a brilliant basketball IQ allows her to still make an impact. She relishes the defensive end of the floor.
“I actually enjoy playing defense,” Walker said. “That’s where I get most of my points from because I know the guards are going to be taller than me and I’m good at guarding other positions. If I get caught on a big person, I know how to defend them.”
She connected with Coach Mitchell through their love for defense and have stayed in contact ever since. Kentucky really began to zero-in on Walker during the middle of her junior season and immediately made her a priority. While the coronavirus has prevented her from taking an official visit to campus or meeting her future teammates in person, Kentucky is still the place she wants to be. When you look at the point guards Matthew Mitchell has groomed over the last several seasons, it’s easy to understand why.