He was the first player to arrive at the Coolidge High School gym Saturday afternoon, wearing a navy T-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap. Barely 6-foot and a slim 172 pounds, Kemba Walker simply blended into the crowd until it was time to suit up for the game, which started an hour late.
A second-team All-America point guard from Connecticut, Walker led the Huskies to the 2011 national championship, was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player and decided he was ready for the NBA. He declared for the draft and was selected with the ninth pick by the Charlotte Bobcats.
Ten days later, the NBA players were locked out.
As Walker took the court in the summer league Clash of the Superstars with his white-shirted teammates Saturday, Goodman League commissioner Miles Rawls continued his usual comedian-style running commentary as the game's announcer.
"Kemba Walker," Rawls called out as Walker connected on a jumper. "He has yet to get a paycheck. He's mad as hell."
The crowd laughed. A few players laughed, including Walker. It was a rueful laugh, one that signified irony rather than humor.
What Rawls did not know what that barely an hour earlier, Walker was asked to sum up his feelings about the lockout in one word.
"Angry," Walker said. "I'm angry because I can't do anything. I can't talk to my team, I can't talk to my coaching staff and start learning things from them, I can't get involved with the team at all. It pretty much [stinks].
"I would like to get acclimated to the NBA game. I know there's a big difference from college to the NBA, so not getting a chance to learn, it's pretty hard."
Walker has been in touch with several of his Bobcats teammates, including Gerald Henderson, Tyrus Thomas, D.J. Augustin and Corey Maggette, and worked out with Thomas and Henderson shortly before coming to D.C. Walker's next stop is Provo, Utah, where he'll play in the Jimmer All-Star Game on Thursday.
The game was organized by former BYU player Jimmer Fredette, the 10th pick in the draft, and will feature members of the 2011 draft class, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Vestibular Disorders Association. The roster also features Washington Wizards draft pick Chris Singleton and other rookies, including undrafted free agent Chris Wright of Georgetown.
"Playing in games like this is the best we can do right now," said Walker, who does not plan to play in the Impact Basketball League in Las Vegas.
Walker also is not planning to play overseas unless he believes he has no other option.
"I've been thinking about it [playing overseas] lately. I don't really want to because I don't know if I want to go so far away," Walker said. "But if it's something that has to be done, it could be possible, depending how long we go into this lockout. I just want to play basketball.
"I've always had big dreams about playing in the NBA, and the year I come out, we have a lockout. But at the same time, we want to make the best deal possible for us as players in the long run. But we're going to stick with each other and hopefully, we can make something good happen."
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