New Hanover basketball star Ty Walker relies on God for guidance
As joy erupts from Warner Temple AME Zion Church on Sunday morning, Ty Walker claps his hands, swaying to the music. The beat vibrates the room. Swells of clapping and singing wash over the congregation. Exultant notes and voices saturate those gathered to celebrate, overwhelming them with a message of love. The music fades, and Ty takes his seat in the back of the church, for this moment no longer a basketball star but a worshipper waiting to receive his sermon.
The Rev. George Maize IV takes the pulpit, his charisma infecting everyone in the room.
“Isn’t it wonderful? You don’t make yourself a saint. God invites you to take on the identity he’s prepared for you,” he says to his congregants. “You don’t have to look for who you are, because God got who you are.
“For the child of God, identity finds them. … God reveals to you, who he made you to be.”
Ty listens while sitting in a metal chair behind the last pew, his crisp white shirt and black tie a different uniform than he usually wears. Those hands that have blocked so many shots now embrace God. His state championship ring brushes his white Bible, the two a natural pair for Ty, faith and basketball forever linked.
“He’s showed me who I wanted to be,” Ty says. “In the beginning of my life stages, I really didn’t know what I wanted to be because I didn’t have basketball. I was just an intelligent individual, but as I grew closer to Christ, He showed me what my future could be on the basketball court.”
‘Who’s your role model’
The discussion is lively, teenage boys debating what makes a man. It’s a club called MOST, Men of Strength Together, started by New Hanover teacher Anthony Carpenter. In the 45 minutes they get each week, the guys discuss real-life issues – partying, girls, war, responsibility.
“Who’s your role model?” Mr. Carpenter asks.
Ty is one of the first to answer, and he’s got many to pick from. There’s Tracy McGrady, his favorite NBA player. There’s Skip Prosser, the late Wake Forest coach. There’s Simon Faison, his grandfather and the man who raised him.
“My role model to me is just God because he lives through everybody,” he says. “All I can do is just try to be a messenger for God. … If you do that, you’ve done your job.”
For Ty, faith has been the foundation for everything else. Yes, he says he’s been “blessed” by height. But faith has also shaped his priorities – God first, education second, basketball third. All the while, it’s kept him grounded. Few would fault an 18-year-old with good grades, basketball talent and popularity for having an ego, but by all accounts Ty remains modest.
“He could have a big head,” says Rev. Maize, “but all that I’ve ever seen of him on and off the court is humility.”
Part of that comes from his compulsion to be a role model himself, to let God work through him. His height and talent have come with attention, something he has used to help children. He reads to elementary students and works at the Community Boys & Girls Club.
“I can’t go around being boastful,” Ty says. “I just want to stay humble, just try to help as many youths as I can. I feel as though that’s my mission.”
Continuing his faith
Ty Walker already has a place to worship when he gets to Wake Forest. The university’s Wait Chapel sits at one end of the quad.
“Anytime I want to go to church, I can,” he says.
Continuing in his faith is important to him. Rev. Maize counsels him on how to surround himself with the right people once he gets to Wake Forest. Those who love God can love Ty for being more than a basketball player, he says.
“If you have people around you that are there just because of the stardom and popularity and everything that comes with that, it becomes a miserable life actually,” Rev. Maize says.
So he’s teaching Ty how to build a support system there, something Ty feels he has begun to do. After Prosser’s untimely death in July, Ty had “RIP Coach Prosser” tattooed on his left forearm. Prosser started recruiting Ty as a sophomore, and their conversations were more about life than basketball. Coach Dino Gaudio, an assistant under Prosser, has done the same.
“I can relate to them with so many things. I can talk to them about anything,” Ty says. “They have that helping hand and they have a shoulder I can lean on when I need that support.”
Gaudio says the coaches can help keep the hangers-on away from the players, but Rev. Maize is teaching Ty how to avoid people who might look at him and see an NBA salary.
Rev. Maize jokes about the girls who target Ty now, a problem that surely won’t disappear in college. Some just flirt, others ask him out and the more brazen offer to perform sexual acts. A few have even followed him home and tried to climb in his window.
“Being in college, those groupies, that’s what I call them, are going to come after him,” says his mother, Tatia Faison. She hopes Ty’s commitment to his girlfriend, who attends N.C. State, will deter other girls, but she worries about other things – about parties, keeping his grades up and the hangers-on that follow players with Ty’s potential.
Already Ty has learned to distinguish between the people who care about him and the people who see dollar signs. He thinks his father, a man he hadn’t seen in seven years, sought him out at the AAU national tournament in Las Vegas this summer “for fame to get his name out there like he was my father.” After it took a paternity test to prove Ty and his brother, Marquay Walker, were his sons about 14 years ago, their father still hasn’t been in the picture. Years of forgotten birthdays, holidays and few attempts to talk have taken their toll.
“I’m forgiving him for what he’s done,” Ty says. “He wants to try to raise his kids, but his kids have already moved on.”
Ty’s also wary of peers who try to be his friend because he plays basketball. Even as a high school player, Ty has classmates seeking the NBA cash.
“If they mention Christ in school in a positive way, then I know that’s the person I need to be hanging around,” he says. “If it’s a person that’s talking about how I’m going to make it, just always talking about, ‘When you come back, give me $1,000,’ or something like this, or ‘Give me a car,’ I know to separate myself.”
While Ty hopes the NBA is a part of his future, he’s grateful for what God has given him now. Tatia knows his character won’t disappear if he doesn’t play pro basketball.
Rev. Maize agrees. “He’s not defined by basketball,” he says. “He plays it well, but he’s not defined by it. That is one of my prayers for him is that as he goes to the heights, his definition will be in Christ Jesus and the person God called him to be.”