O’Brien: Chicago’s top eighth grader heads to Kentucky for high school experience

SHARE O’Brien: Chicago’s top eighth grader heads to Kentucky for high school experience
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Marquise Walker became a YouTube basketball sensation when he was 8 years old. Michael Jordan has watched him play, ESPN’s Outside The Lines has done a segment on him. It’s all been part of a carefully choreographed marketing campaign by his father Chikosi Walker.

So far the 14-year-old is living up to the hype. He’s considered one of the top 25 players in the national class of 2019 and is the top-ranked player in Illinois.

“I love it,” said Marquise Walker. “I love good attention, I love being noticed, I’m grateful for being noticed.”

Walker, a 5-10 point guard, averaged 35 points at Stevenson Middle School in Melrose Park. He played eighth grade ball as a seventh grader. Chikosi Walker doesn’t see any point in his son playing another season at that level, so he’s made a bold decision.

Marquise is moving to Bowling Green, Kentucky. He’ll attend South Warren Middle School and be the starting point guard at South Warren High School. Middle school students are allowed to play high school basketball in Kentucky.

“Playing eighth grade again would waste a year of development,” said Chikosi Walker. “He would be the best player on the court every game and won’t get better. He’s an alpha dog. It’s a no-win situation playing eighth grade ball. You have to see him play to understand what I mean. He hits another level when he plays against the best players in the country.”

Walker said South Warren is a much better school than Stevenson, so the move makes academic sense as well. He plans to spend as much time as possible with his son in Kentucky.

“I’m self-employed so I have a lot of flexibility,” said Chikosi Walker. “I’m getting an apartment down here, they are pretty cheap. I’ve been looking the last couple days. We are in an extended stay hotel for a week or so. I’ll be back and forth throughout the year. I work in real estate, I own some properties and have passive income so I don’t have to be (in Chicago) all the time.”

Chikosi Walker has good friends in the Bowling Green area and his grandfather lives there, so there will be plenty of people to look after Marquise. The plan is to spend one year in Kentucky getting high school playing experience and then return to the Chicago area for four years of high school ball.

“He should be able to step in and start on one of the best teams in the Chicago area as a freshman next year,” said Chikosi Walker. “He’s wide-open for high schools, it has to be the best situation where he can play and qualify for college.”

HIGH SCHOOL DECISION IS NEXT

Walker says his son has already received interest from St. Joseph, Curie, North Lawndale, Simeon, DePaul Prep, Seton and Marshall. The colleges have come calling as well. Marquise is taking an unofficial visit to Western Kentucky this weekend and plans to visit Iowa State soon.

“(Marquise) is a great kid, he’s hard working and pretty humble off the court,” said Kyle Mason, Walker’s AAU coach at Meanstreets. “We’ll see how it goes in Kentucky. I think that’s a real big move.”

It’s certainly a unique move. Former Young player LJ Peak played varsity basketball as a junior high kid in South Carolina before moving to Chicago, but Walker is the first high-profile Chicago player to leave the area to get high school experience while still in junior high.

Walker has faith in his father’s decision, and like so many recent area phenoms he has a clear vision of his future.

“I want a lot of offers from different schools,” said Marquise Walker. “I want to get a scholarship from college, I want to be a McDonald’s All-American, have great grades and stay on task. And of course I want to play professionally. That’s it really. And make my family proud.”

MIXED RESULTS FOR CHICAGO PHENOMS

Walker isn’t the first area player to enter the limelight pre-high school. Ryan Boatwright famously committed to USC before he had chosen his high school. Cully Payne committed to DePaul in eighth grade. Back in the ’90s, Sports Illustrated named Chicago’s Mike Irvin the top 11-year-old in the country. All three went on to be good high school players, but college and NBA success doesn’t always follow the early hype.

“A parent has a right to do what they want to do with their kid,” said Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin, Mike’s brother. “Most of the big names in the past have waited their turn, this is a different move. I think he’s a great ballplayer, he has a chance to be really good, a special player.”

One website has already pegged Marquise Walker as Kentucky’s top junior high talent since O.J. Mayo.

“Those are big shoes to fill,” said Chikosi Walker. “But (Marquise) plays a real exciting style of ball. He has a natural flair that should get the fans to like him, get crowds to come see him play. He can pass the ball really well and shoot the ball, he can shoot those long bombs.”

All the pieces seem to be in place for Walker. He has talent and a father willing to make drastic moves to give his son every advantage.

“(My dad) is awesome,” said Walker. “He’s always around to make sure I don’t get in any trouble. I think it’s a good idea to come here to Kentucky, being with these high schoolers will help me grow as a man.”

It’s possible Walker’s move could start a trend. Kentucky isn’t that far away and a year of high school basketball slightly out of the Chicago spotlight could help a player gain valuable experience acclimating to the speed of the high school game.

“The ultimate challenge is to play with older kids at a faster pace,” said Chikosi Walker. “He’s played at such a high level in AAU ball that he can’t play at a lower level anymore and have the same intensity. He isn’t going to get better doing that.”

Wherever Marquise Walker winds up next year, it will be interesting to see him play. There have been more than a dozen young phenoms in Chicago over the past decade, but never a freshman with one year of varsity experience already under his belt.

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