- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

Susan O'Malley didn't know how Darrell Walker would fit in Washington when he first arrived as a member of the Bullets 13 years ago.
Then a defensive and rebounding specialist guard, Walker had just come in a trade from Denver before the 1987-88 season. But previously, while in New York, he had had some problems with coach Hubie Brown.
"He had a reputation as a trouble guy in the locker room," said O'Malley, the president of Washington Sports and Entertainment who was director of advertising at the time. "[Then-coach] Wes [Unseld] and I talked about that. I said, 'Wow, how are you going to handle this guy? His reputation is he's nothing but trouble in the locker room.'
"Wes said, 'I'm going to put him in charge.' And he turned around and made him captain of the team. And from that moment on, Darrell has stepped up."
Given that testimony, it should come as no surprise that Walker, 39, led the WNBA's Washington Mystics to their first playoff appearance Wednesday. While serving in different capacities in the District of Columbia, he has adjusted and improved.
Walker elevated the Mystics by imposing on them the same intensity and hustle he displayed in 10 NBA seasons. Never mind that he had never coached a women's team and was trying to focus on his first full season as the Wizards' director of player personnel; he has made his style work without sacrificing productivity.
"I'm straightforward and demanding about the way I want the game to be played, the way I think we should play, what the best way is for us to win," said Walker, who is 5-7 since replacing Nancy Darsch as the Mystics await tomorrow night's playoff opener against the New York Liberty at MCI Center. "And they've bought into what we've been doing: pressing, trapping and good man-to-man defense. I try to bring intensity to the sideline. That's the way I was as a player, and it's rubbed off on my team."
Walker had the opportunity to become an assistant with the Indiana Pacers under new coach Isiah Thomas but declined, a decision he said he's glad he made. His versatility and dedication have not gone unappreciated by management.
"He's really a company guy," owner Abe Pollin said. "He does what we ask him to do, and he does it very well. He stepped in when we asked him to last year [as coach of] the Wizards, and he's stepped in now for the Mystics."
What's more, the players have taken to Walker and his strategy. From the time he was introduced as coach July 14, he maintained that his team would apply defensive pressure until the opponent wilted, then run foes off the floor with quickness. While things haven't always gone according to plan the Mystics needed until the last game of the season to clinch a playoff spot the players enjoy working for Walker.
"I'm getting a lot of easy points by playing defense baseline to baseline," said center Murriel Page. "I like his style of play. It's helped my game out a whole lot."
Walker didn't mince words while addressing his team during a timeout of Wednesday's game against Cleveland when it trailed by 11 points with 7:29 to play in the half. His message: You've been playing for a playoff berth all season. Don't fold now. Get the deficit down to four or less points by halftime, and you'll have a chance to win.
The Mystics did just that and trailed by two at the break. They turned up the defensive intensity in the final 20 minutes and won by 12 to seal their playoff position.
Walker brought out the ability of point guard Keisha Anderson, who had played less than 10 minutes a game before he was hired. But Anderson, a quick, energetic player, has thrived under Walker, and the team, while inconsistent on offense at times, has not suffered.
"More so than anything, it was his style of basketball that he brought to the team," Anderson said. "Darrell gave everybody a fair shot. And he treated everybody the same, and he's a people's person. That, more than anything, brought us together as a team."
Walker said he learned things like fair player treatment from Unseld, now general manager for the Wizards and Mystics and with whom he is still close. Walker noticed that Unseld treated Bernard King, the Bullets star, the same as the 12th man on the roster.
"That always stuck in my mind," Walker said. "And that's the way I've always tried to coach."
The next question for Walker, technically an interim appointee, and the Mystics to answer is whether he will stay on as coach. When he was hired, he maintained the move was temporary. He didn't sound so sure Thursday.
"It's a lot easier to coach the women than the men there's no question about it," Walker said. "I don't know what I'm going to do… . I'm sure I'm going to get some conversation about staying. I haven't even thought about it, to be honest."
But would it be a surprise if Walker stayed?

Note The MCI Center box office is expecting a high volume of will-call ticket requests for Saturday's opening playoff game. Fans are encouraged to pick up tickets as early as possible Saturday to avoid the rush.

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