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Morgan Park's Kyle Davis talks to Lamont Walker in the fourth quarter of their semifinal victory over Limestone Friday in Peoria. | Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media
PEORIA — Morgan Park junior Lamont Walker is tall and lanky and athletic. He’s not muscle-bound or fierce looking though, so it’s almost funny when he claims to be the toughest player in the state.
It isn’t just a lofty claim. Walker has the credentials to back up his statement. While the Mustangs’ Division-I backcourt of DePaul recruit Billy Garrett Jr. and Dayton recruit Kyle Davis grabs most of the headlines, Walker may be the primary reason Morgan Park is playing for the Class 3A state championship on Saturday.
Just look at the list of players Walker has guarded this season: Simeon’s Jabari Parker, Curie’s Cliff Alexander, Proviso East’s Sterling Brown, Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson, Notre Dame’s Matt Mooney, Bogan’s Luwane Pipkins and Hillcrest’s Javon Mooring.
Walker held all seven of those all-area caliber players well below their season averages. Pipkins did not score against Walker and Mooring was held to just four points. More importantly, Morgan Park won all of those games.
“It’s a blessing to have a player like that,” Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin said. “I have total confidence in him. When we game plan we just know that whoever the team’s best player is, Lamont’s got him.”
So how does a 6-6 player guard 5-8 point guard Luwane Pipkins one game and 6-10 Curie center Cliff Alexander the next, and be equally effective against both?
“I know as long as I play good defense I will stay on the court,” Walker said. “I can handle big players and small players, it’s all about putting in the effort.”
Walker says Parker is the best player he’s guarded this season.
“Jabari is great, we are teammates [on the Mac Irvin Fire club team],” Walker said. “So I know him pretty well and I know his moves well so that definitely makes it a little easier.”
Walker’s mother, Warsheka Griffin-Keen, thinks she deserves some credit for her son’s hard-nosed defense.
“It’s probably because of me,” Griffin-Keen said. “I’m his harshest critic. I tell him what I think after every game. He has to be himself out there, he always has to make sure he gives it his all.”
It hasn’t been all rosy times for Walker this season. He was involved in the post-game dust up after the first Simeon-Morgan Park game at Chicago State.
“That was a hard time for him,” Griffin-Keen said. “I had to do my job as a parent and let him know people will say what they want, you can’t control that. His job is to stay focused.”
Walker did stay focused. The entire Morgan Park team has, despite a tremendous distraction.
“Every day in sixth period I see [Tyrone Lawson’s] chair,” Walker said. “It sits there empty. He was a huge basketball fan. He would always tell me what a tough player I was.”
Lawson is the Morgan Park student who was shot and killed after the Morgan Park-Simeon game at Chicago State on Jan. 16. Every member of the Mustangs knew Lawson, who was a regular at their games.
“He would have been here watching us this weekend, for sure,” Walker said. “The South Side is kind of hard. It’s sad, but we are used to it so it doesn’t effect us on the court.’’