Jarvis Walker II, a freshman guard, has played only nine games for Purdue Fort Wayne, but that's been more than enough time to see he's got unique scoring touch.
He's converted 15 of 25 shots, some of them from contorted angles, and was a key contributor as the Mastodons won twice last weekend.
Not all of Walker's plays have been ideally scripted for the Mastodons, who aim to avoid tough shots in crowds by kicking the ball to open men, but coach Jon Coffman said: “He has got a knack for making plays around the rim.”
Walker's ability to hit difficult shots may be as much inherited as learned.
His father, Jarvis, starred at Ferris State – he was the conference's co-Player of the Year in 1989 – and went on to become one of the all-time greats of Germany's Bundesliga. His mother, Danielle, also played at Ferris State. His sister Jordan, who was Ms. Basketball in Michigan, played at Western Michigan and Tennessee. And sister Jasmyn played at Western Michigan, too.
Jarvis Walker II stressed that, despite the family's on-court accolades, he never felt pressured to play basketball competitively.
“My parents never really pushed it on me. It was more like: Did I want to play? Is that my route?” he said, adding their advice on achieving success was clear. “It's just putting in the time. That was the big emphasis. Our parents said, 'You can pursue it, but you've got to go all in. And that's putting in the extra time, the extra hours, even after practice.' ”
A two-time all-state player from Muskegon, Michigan, Walker averaged 18 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists as a senior at Muskegon High and has become one of the rare freshmen under Coffman to get playing time at PFW.
He's averaging 4.7 points, 1.3 rebounds and 13.7 minutes for PFW (4-5, 3-5 in Horizon League) heading into games today and Saturday at Milwaukee (5-2, 2-0).
As for those off-kilter, floating shots the 6-foot-2 Walker has a knack for hitting, cue up some highlights of his family members and you'll see similarities – particularly to Jordan.
“At this level, there are 6-foot-8, 6-foot-9 dudes, and I'm not always going to be able to get a layup like I did in high school,” said Walker, 18. “So I'm just developing that in-between where you don't pull up, but shoot a floater.”
He hit 5 of 8 shots last weekend, as PFW defeated Illinois-Chicago 96-89 in overtime and 88-55, and the Mastodons hope their early season doldrums are over.
“I wouldn't even say it started with those two games we won last weekend. It started the week before with our intensity in practice. The level was raised,” Walker said. “I think that definitely showed in our two games (against UIC); I think those two wins have definitely boosted us for (this week).”
PFW and Milwaukee have met only once before – the Mastodons won 77-61 in 1987 at Quincy, Illinois – and the Panthers are paced by Te'Jon Lucas' 13.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. PFW's Jarred Godfrey, the Horizon League's reigning Player of the Week, is averaging 18.2 points and 4.8 rebounds.
“I believe we're a top-four team in this league,” Coffman said. “The way to show that, and to start moving up the standings, is to operate with a championship mentality. ... A champion is a state of being and that's what we're really hunting. Focus on how you operate.”
Walker, who admitted it's taken time to adjust to speed of college basketball, wants to operate within that team dynamic.
“Whatever I can do to contribute to winning, whether that's coming off the bench and playing 5 to 10 minutes, or playing more than that,” he said. “Whatever it is, I just want to contribute.”
PFW at Milwaukee
When: 7 p.m. today and Saturday
Where: Klotsche Center, Milwaukee
Radio: 1380 AM Saturday
Records: PFW (4-5, 3-5 in Horizon League), Milwaukee (5-2, 4-1)