On Thursday, former UConn star Kemba Walker is expected to be among the top-10 names called at the 2011 NBA draft, fulfilling his lifelong ambition of reaching basketball's top flight in the process. Yet just days before one of the biggest nights of his life, Walker eschewed the traditional pre-draft media gauntlet for a lobbying effort he felt was more important: Trying to save his former high school.
According to the New York Daily News and Wall Street Journal, Walker spent Monday afternoon at a rally outside Brother Rice (N.Y.) High in the Bronx, which is scheduled for closure for the 2011-12 school year due to ongoing financial strife at the school.
"It meant everything," Walker told the crowd at the rally, according to the Daily News. "It made me the man who I am today.
"[Brother Rice] made a lot of things easier," he told the crowd of his experience at Rice. "Hopefully, we can keep this going. ... This place is more than a school. It's a brotherhood."
Yet, unless something changes, that brotherhood will no longer be in operation come August. The Daily News reported that a new plan for the school calls for it to remain closed throughout the 2011-12 year, with the goal of returning for the 2012-13 academic year. Unfortunately, that year away would severely hinder the school's athletic and academic reputation, putting its ability to bring back students or teachers it would lose in the interim in significant doubt.
That's why Walker and some 75 other students, parents and alumni spent a steamy June New York afternoon on a Bronx sidewalk with megaphones, pleading for people to hear about the importance of a school which has helped steer a number of significant basketball prospects and their New York teenager peers to a better future.
"I might've been dead or in jail if not for Rice," former Rice basketball players have told the school's basketball coach Dwayne Mitchell, according to the Journal. Another of Mitchell's former stars made clear just how devastating the loss of his former school has been to him.
"It was one of the saddest day of my life when I heard about it," said Shane Southwell, a Rice alumnus who plays at Kansas State. "I remember there being rumors about financial problems back when I was there. But when you're a junior in high school, you're only worried about playing basketball and getting into college. So it's a total shock."
Mitchell told the Daily News that he plans to organize further rallies to try and help get the message out about Rice's financial strife, but there seems to be little realistic hope that the 2011-12 academic year will be saved.
If that is the way that the school finally closes, it will be a sad moment for New York prep sports, though it won't have come without Walker doing his best to help an important part of his past.