Tim Walker Jr. turned to run back on defense in a basketball game this fall, a routine play he's made thousands of times before. But this time, Walker's body wouldn't let him move as he fell to the ground in pain.
After seeking the advice of several doctors, Walker found out he had a fractured vertebra in his back, and for a while didn't know when or if he would return to the game.
Walker, an eighth-grader, had to sit and wait and wonder when he would be able to get back on the court.
"It was very frustrating to not be able to play basketball for nearly six weeks," he said. "Looking back now it was just a setback, something I had to get through."
Walker found out it was an old injury, something he had done without even knowing. After a little over a month of rest, relaxation and rehabilitation, Walker was back on the court in time for high school basketball season.
"I think it was a very tough thing for Tim to deal with," said Walker's father, Tim Sr. "But, now he is pain-free, the doctors say everything is fine. He looks better than ever."
The 14-year-old's return was in time for him to make a big impression at his new school, Covenant Classical, where the 5-foot-11 guard made varsity and earned the starting position in a matter of weeks.
But while Walker is still young, his success has not come without hard work. Walker typically spends about 20 hours a week outside of basketball practice working on his game, agility and fitness. Walker works with a trainer and also plays AAU ball in the offseason on the Charlotte Thunder.
While he was a standout performer at J.M. Alexander Middle in Huntersville, his work away from the school is where his game improved and where others started to take notice.
Walker's first major accomplishment came last year when he was recognized as one of the top seventh-graders at the "Adidas Phenom Camp.".
Walker also has basketball in his blood. His father was the all-time leading scorer at Statesville High and played Division II basketball at Shepherd College in West Virginia. Walker's cousin, Johnny Newman, was an All-American at the University of Richmond before going on to play for the Charlotte Hornets and several other NBA teams in a solid career.
"I've learned a lot about the game from my father," said Walker. "He taught me the basics, but what's most important is he has taught to focus on what I can do, not to play outside of myself."
While Walker is still learning and growing every day, his career at Covenant Classical has started nicely. Walker was averaging eights points, four rebounds, four assists and nearly four steals per game for a much improved team that has started 3-3 against a tough non-conference slate.
"Every day is a learning experience for both Tim and myself," said Covenant Classical basketball coach Justin Kuralt. "If Tim continues to be a sponge for what we are teaching him, he has a chance to be one of those special players, that don't come around often."
Walker hopes his future will include a college basketball career at some level, but for now he is content to play the game he loves and work on getting better every day.
"I have come a long way in the last few years," said Walker. "But I still have a long way to go. I am still just a work in progress."