Although listed as the shortest player on the roster, CJ Walker’s leadership and play will have a heightened impact on Ohio State’s success throughout the 2020-21 season.
The redshirt senior guard hit his stride in the final stretch of games in the 2019-20 season, averaging 13.7 points and 4.3 assists over the last six games. Along with improved play and a bump in minutes following the absence of former Ohio State guard DJ Carton, head coach Chris Holtmann said the Florida State transfer has been a valued leader for the team.
“He’s a terrific kid. He is an exceptional leader,” Holtmann said Friday in a Zoom call. “I think he really does embrace kinda how we want to do things. He’s an everyday guy.”
The leadership aspect has taken on new life in an environment that is dominated by COVID-19 concerns, as Walker said that he hopes to be an example for his teammates in making safe choices to have a season.
“That sacrifice is really big, just being disciplined and knowing that my season matters, our season as a team matters,” Walker said Friday in a Zoom call. “I want to play, so I’m going to sacrifice everything to be able to play, and I just want to give that example to my teammates as well so we can have a season.”
As far as welcoming a new roster, Walker is not concerned with the team chemistry and his role as point guard for the team.
“I feel like me being a vocal leader just makes it that much easier, so I’m not too worried about chemistry and things like that,” Walker said. “I feel like I’ll be able to take care of that — me being a leader and just us being basketball players.”
Walker said he is looking to carry over the momentum from the prior season. Posting career highs in points, assists, rebounds and minutes played, Walker said that he developed a better feel for the game among other things.
Without a proven backup point guard last season, Walker said that his increase in minutes allowed him to figure out his game and gain confidence to take more shots. Despite that, Walker said that he had to work on playing smart and being consistent –– two things he is trying to improve upon this season.
“Confidence is just the biggest thing for me. I felt like I had that a lot going into the end of last year,” Walker said.
For the upcoming season, Walker will man a backcourt that will also feature junior guard Duane Washington Jr.
The pair will be without former running mates Carton and Luther Muhammad, who both transferred out of the program.
Outside of redshirt junior guard Musa Jallow, the backcourt’s depth will consist of unproven players on the Big Ten stage.
Walker, who Holtmann said flourished in the backcourt with Washington at the end of last season, said they talk about the past and the future of their playing relationship.
“We’re going to have to be in shape, really conditioned, being leaders on and off the court,” Walker said. “We’ve just got to take that challenge on every day, push each other in practice to know it’s not going to be easy. And just being consistent, making sure we push each other every day in practice, making sure we’re taking care of our bodies with treatment and things like that off the floor.”
Ohio State has benefited from the influx of transfers to fill out its roster ahead of the season. Like Walker, a player such as redshirt senior guard Abel Porter decided to spend his final stint of eligibility with the Buckeyes.
Noting the intelligence and athleticism of Porter, Walker said that transfers like Porter also bring a much needed commodity to the team: experience.
“Just that experience makes it a lot easier going into practice,” Walker said. “It’s not a lot of teaching or drill, drill, drill, drill. It’s a lot more things we can get through kinda fast and we can progress faster just because we have a lot of returners.”
Beyond the team component, the 2020-21 season will prove to be Walker’s final chance to play at the collegiate level.
Navigating an unusual offseason, Walker said that there are no regrets heading into the season and he is ready to start playing.
“This is kinda like the all- or- nothing mentality. I literally have nothing to lose at this point. I’m really excited about it — take on any challenge and things like that. ” Walker said. “I’m ready to play. I feel like last year toward the end of the season, those 10-12 games really motivated me to show what I could do in the Big Ten for myself and for my teammates.”