Clark Atlanta coach helps players stay in school through annual art auction

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Clark Atlanta coach helps players stay in school through annual art auction

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Clark Atlanta University Panthers player Anthony “A.J.” Williams and Head Coach Darrell Walker. CREDIT: Curtis McDowell

A few students mill about Clark Atlanta University Head Coach Darrell Walker’s office at Epps Gymnasium on the intown Atlanta campus.

They come to chat about basketball, classes and sometimes, just life.

Walker has become like a father or favorite uncle to many of the players. Make no mistake, though, he’s tough and no nonsense.

You go to class. You study. You handle yourself as a gentleman. You treat women with respect. You don’t use the N-word. Oh, and those sagging pants? Not here.

“I have to be the bad guy sometimes,” said Walker, a former player for the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls and a professional coach. “ It’s important that these guys - being young African-American men - get ready for the real world. Getting a degree is a step towards that. If you’re talking about a decent job you have to walk in with some kind of degree. You can’t be a one-trick pony.”

To help get them on the right path, the Chicago-born Walker hosts an annual art auction. The proceeds are used for scholarships to  send his basketball players to summer school, something he requires they attend.

The Second Annual Darrell Walker Art and Basketball Auction will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Woodruff Arts Center's Beauchamp Carr Gallery. 

Last year, the auction raised more than $40,000.

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He wants his players to be realistic about life. Sure, they harbor dreams to play in the NBA. He understands that desire to go professional , but the competition is tough. Real tough.

“I’m not saying it isn’t possible but the percentages are so low,” he said. 

Walker, who splits his time between Atlanta and Little Rock, Ark., was an All-American, who played with the University of Arkansas Razorbacks under legendary coach  Eddie Sutton.

While he did make the pros, Walker knows the high costs of not being serious about school .

He was one of those class goof-offs. He skipped class and didn’t take school seriously. “That’s why I laugh because I’ve been there,” said Walker, 56, who was on a basketball scholarship.  He played basketball but ended up going to a junior college because fianally getting a degree in 2012. When heearned his degree, Sutton walked him across the stage in the very arena where he once played.

He has a strict rule. If he finds out one of his players missed a class, he will have another appointment to make. Meet with coach at 5 a.m. and “I will run the daylights out of you.”

He gets tested sometimes.

He usually wins. “Why get up at 4 a.m. to see me at 5 a.m.  because you can’t make a class at 10 a.m.? That’s doesn’t add up to me.”

Anthony “A.J. Williams said the coach’s advice and support has been invaluable.

“He helped me take stress off my mom because he gave me a full athletic scholarship and it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be able to go to school,” Williams, a 22-year-old student from Brooklyn. “Every day he helps me be a better man.”

Williams said Walker also pushes him to study hard “because basketball won’t last forever. I’ll need something to fall back on.”

Walker has collected art since the 1990s and now has about 80 pieces in his collection, including work by Sam Gilliam,  Jacob Lawrence and Robert Colescott.

He loves collecting art. Perhaps even more so now that the art is being used to help young African American men. 

“I’m in a good place right now,” he said.

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