By Laura Amato
St. John’s senior Jade Walker has always been one of the guys. She grew up playing basketball with a boys’ team and the challenges of being the only girl on the court has turned her into one of the most fierce competitors around. She’s used to having to constantly prove herself and the chip on her shoulder has taken permanent residence.
This year—with one final season of college hoops ahead of her—Walker is hoping to use that determination to her advantage, leading the Red Storm back to a Big East championship and the NCAA Tournament.
“When I started getting into basketball, it was all because someone told me I couldn’t,” Walker said. “But once I started feeling like I could do something with this, I just really love it. When you really love something, you put your all into it and that’s what you’ll see on the court.”
Walker grew up in New Jersey and while she’d always been drawn to basketball, there simply wasn’t an opportunity for her to play—at least with other girls. So, she and her father got creative.
“My dad wanted to get me to start playing for real, like organized games and I just had to play on the boys team,” Walker said. “I was the only girl on the team and it was like a group of people that nobody wanted and we ended up winning the championship.”
Walker’s experience on the boys’ team shaped her as a player and she’s the first to admit that she might be a bit more aggressive than her current on-court counterparts.
That, as far as the St. John’s coaching staff is concerned, is the best thing about her.
“Jade’s personality is something that can really be a big benefit for us,” said Red Storm coach Joe Tartamella. “Jade’s ability and her leadership comes from how she plays. She plays with emotion, she has great skill and she’s a tremendous scorer.”
Walker is one of three returning seniors for a Red Storm squad that won its first Big East championship since 1988 last season. The 6-foot-1 forward knows she’ll have to step up as a leader this year.
She averaged a career-best 9.3 points in 32 games last season, but after the departure of program standouts Aliyyah Handford and Danaejah Grant, Walker knows she’ll have to do even more. After all, she doesn’t mind the spotlight—she grew up in one.
“I feel like this year I can really show a lot more of what I can do,” Walker said. “But it’s me and Aaliyah [Lewis] running the show right now and we’re trying to give everything we can in our last year.”
Walker still has that chip on her shoulder, that determination to prove herself, but this year there’s also something else—the determination to prove this team can still contend. And she’s going to do whatever it takes to prove that point.
“We always have a chip on our shoulder, we just want to live up to the tradition here at St. John’s and it’s more than just a preseason poll,” Walker said. “We just have to work hard and prove everybody wrong.”