2017 LSU Athletic Hall of Fame Class: Joyce Walker
Joyce Walker is one of the greatest players in women’s basketball history, a three-time all-American and the all-time leading scorer in LSU annals, but her favorite college memory doesn’t involve shooting, rebounding or creating turnovers. Joyce Walker’s best day as an LSU Lady Tiger came during her senior year in 1984, when her parents traveled 2,500 miles from Seattle, Wash., to Baton Rouge to watch her play.
“My parents had nine other kids, so they couldn’t make too many trips to LSU,” Walker explained. “My senior year, when they got there, it was my best day ever on the basketball court at LSU. When my parents got to see their daughter – they were hard-working people and they were just trying to put food in our mouths – I will never forget what it felt like to have them there.”
Walker had developed her basketball skills from an early age at the YMCA just a block-and-a-half from her home, where she played as the only girl in a group of very competitive boys.
“My baby brother, Donnie, would also pick me first to be on his team,” Walker remembered. “That gave me a sense that maybe I could be really good in this game.”
Regarded as one of the greatest players – male or female – to come from the state of Washington, Walker, a 5-8 guard, led Seattle’s Garfield High School to a state championship in 1980 and received college scholarship offers from schools throughout the country.
Ultimately, she elected to attend LSU, mostly due to the recruiting efforts of Lady Tiger assistant coach Clarence “Christy” Christenson, who had first worked for the men’s team under coach Dale Brown before transferring to the women’s squad.
“Christy was just a kind, gentle man, and as one of 10 kids, Joyce had a hard-scrabble life,” Brown said. “He won Joyce’s mother over, stressing the family atmosphere at LSU. He even went with Joyce to her senior school dance.”
“Coach Christy played a major role in recruiting me, and my mom fell in love with him,” Walker said. “I also felt LSU would be a good place for me because I knew the best women’s basketball was being played in the SEC. I wanted to go to a program where we could build a name for ourselves.”
Walker flourished on the court at LSU from 1981-84, playing her first two seasons under coach Barbara Swanner and her final two seasons under legendary coach Sue Gunter, who directed Walker and her teammates to the ’84 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
“Sue Gunter was a straight shooter, and that’s what I loved about her the most,” Walker said. “She had an infectious personality, and she demanded that we come to work every day. There were a couple of times she had to give me some discipline based on the choices I had made, but the next day she would come back and bring me into the fold. She would tell me, ‘You have the most talent on this team, Joyce, and you have to set the tempo.’ She was a true gem in my life.”
Brown described Walker as “dominant on the court” and recalled that she often would scrimmage with his men’s team to sharpen her skills.
“She would scrimmage against our guys, and she would hold her own,” Brown said. “She practiced with our guys constantly, she didn’t back down at all, and our players loved her. She was a survivor, but there was also a gentle side to her, and she never had any arrogance at all. If I was to start a women’s basketball team right now, the first player I would pick is Joyce Walker.”
Walker played in 117 games at LSU, scoring 2,906 points, which remains the most in Lady Tigers’ history and No. 3 in SEC annals. She averaged 24.8 points per contest, and connected on 1,259 field goals, which is still the No. 1 mark in the NCAA women’s basketball record book. She earned all-America honors three times, and when her career was completed, Walker was the only player in LSU history to rank in the school’s top 10 in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots.
She went on to compete professionally in Europe, and she became one of the first women to play for the world-renowned Harlem Globetrotters.
“It was an amazing experience,” Walker said of her time with the Globetrotters. “We were knowns as ambassadors of goodwill, bringing laughter and fun all around the world. I marveled at what the Trotters did and what we stood for.”
After retiring as a player, Walker began a career in education and enjoyed a highly successful tenure as the girls’ basketball coach at her alma mater, Garfield High, where she guided the Bulldogs to a state title in 2005.
Today, she runs the ReJoyce Fundamentals Academy, a non-profit that operates STEM and Basketball of Science camps in Seattle and the surrounding areas.
“I’m really committed to providing the sciences to our kids, it’s vital toward their success,” Walker said. “I’ve been helped by so many people throughout my life, and I’ve just made the commitment to pay it forward. I just love to be around that energy that’s involved in teaching and coaching young people. If you’re given something, you have the responsibility to pay it forward.”
Joyce Walker’s path to the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame began 37 years ago when she stepped onto campus and began a rewarding journey.
“It’s an amazing accomplishment to enter the Hall of Fame, one I’ve dreamt about over the years,” Walker said. “I feel like it’s a homecoming in a sense, so I’m elated. I believe that coming to LSU was the right decision for me. I feel very fortunate, very blessed, to be a part of the rich history of LSU Athletics.”
Editor’s Note: LSU women’s basketball All-American Joyce Walker is a member of the 2017 LSU Athletic Hall of Fame induction class and will be formally enshrined on Friday, September 22, in the L’Auberge Baton Rouge Events Center. The other inductees are men’s basketball player Collis Temple Jr., diver Alison Maisch, pole vaulter Russ Buller, sprinter Debbie Parris-Thymes and softball pitcher Kristin Schmidt.
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