INDIAN TRAIL There are 165 kids on the court at Kemba Walker’s basketball camp, some as young as 8 years old.
What were you like as a player at 8?
“I was bad,” says Walker, the Charlotte Hornets’ point guard.
Bad as in he’s a bad man or a bad 8-year-old?
“No,” says Walker. “Bad.”
Obviously he’s past that. Al Jefferson was Charlotte’s best player last season, but Walker was its leader.
Walker takes a break Wednesday from directing the kids and going one-on-one against the kids and signing autographs for the kids, and heads to two metal folding chairs set up on the side of the court. He doesn’t walk to the chairs, however. He dribbles across Carolina Courts to the chairs, never in a straight line, the ball always in his hands.
Walker and Jefferson were Charlotte’s big two last season. They’ve acquired a third – Lance Stephenson, the free agent guard from the Indiana Pacers.
Walker is from the Bronx, Stephenson from Brooklyn. Stephenson’s Lincoln High twice played Walker’s Rice High and Walker admits Rice lost both. They also played AAU basketball together. Walker is 24, four months older than Stephenson.
How many times do you think you’ve played with or against him?
“Too many,” Walker says.
“I know Lance really well. We spent some time last summer together, playing ball mostly, and hanging out. He’ll be a really good fit for us.”
When did you find out the Hornets were interested?
“Coach (Steve) Clifford called me and (general manager) Rich Cho called me and they told me they were speaking with him and tried to get a little input and info from me,” says Walker. “How well did I know him and what kind of person was he? I tried to give them the best information possible.”
Last season Walker helped recruit Jefferson. This month he pushed for Stephenson. There is no offseason.
“Of course I was excited,” says Walker. “You always want great talent around you and he’s really good. I think he can do so much on the basketball court and elevate the games of a lot of players. You always need a guy like that on your team.”
Describe his game.
“He’s a New York City guard,” says Walker. “He’s super tough, he’ll never back down from anything, and for his height (6-5) he handles the ball really well. He does the pick and roll really well. He passes the ball. He’s a great overall player.”
What will Stephenson do for you aside from bringing a little New York?
“He’ll help me in a lot of aspects,” says Walker. “I think he can make shots; I think he can take a lot of pressure off me as well. In late game situations we can go to him. And I can go off the ball at times. If he rebounds I can run and depend on him to make some plays.”
Stephenson can run an offense?
“No question,” says Walker.
Is he a guy you want in your locker room?
“Everybody in the world sees him in the playoffs,” says Walker. “Everybody talks about his antics and stuff like that. He’s a really good guy off the court, gets along with everybody, jokes with everybody. I think guys will definitely love him. He’s a great guy.”
Although Walker went to New York when coaches and young Hornets’ players went to Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League, he worked out with teammates old and new before they departed.
“We have great young talent, guys who really have high potential and are capable of a lot, and some great veteran guys,” he says.
Are you young talent or a veteran?
“I’m still young, but I’m the leader of the team so I guess I’m a veteran,” Walker says.
You like your team?
“We made a great pickup with (point guard) Brian Roberts,” Walker says. “He’s tough, he can run a team really well and shoot really well. Marvin Williams is solid and he can shoot and he’ll definitely stretch the defense. MKG is getting better. Then we have Jeff Taylor who’s looking really great right now. Gerald (Henderson). Gary Neal, who looks amazing right now. His body’s really in shape. Of course, Big Al (Jefferson). Of course, Big Al.”
You sound as if this is a good time to be a Hornet.
“It’s amazing now the amount of love we get around this city from all the Hornets’ fans,” says Walker. “Growing up you really don’t understand it. Now I’m really starting to realize what Hornets means here in Charlotte. I go around the city and I see the T-shirts and old school Hornets’ gear and I can tell everybody is excited.”
The interview ends and Walker picks up the ball and begins dribbling, already putting on moves.
“I can’t wait to get it started,” he says