Reading High senior Lonnie Walker opted to stay with his high school team even when people told him he needed to transfer to a powerhouse program. The Miami recruit once again has Reading thinking about a state title run in 2016-17. Jim Seip, GameTimePA.com
Even for the fans who wandered in from the cold without the slightest bit of basketball knowledge, the crowd at William Penn High School let anyone within earshot know the best high school basketball player in Pennsylvania was on the floor — in York.
And Reading High senior Lonnie Walker IV did not disappoint.
The state’s Gatorade Player of the Year last season, Walker helped cap Reading’s 65-55 victory against Williamsport in the opening game of the York High Tip-Off Tournament with a fourth-quarter dunk, a smooth flush in transition.
Then there was the impressive stuff.
Dribbling on the wing, he crossed over a defender, dropping a Williamsport player to his butt on the court.
Later on, Walker glided through the lane, seemingly switching directions in midair two times — or was it three? — before rolling the ball in for a score.
Later on, he leaped for a thunderous block on a Williamsport player's shot.
Then, another crossover. Another stumbling defender. Another roar from the crowd. Walker, a commit to the University of Miami, finished with 21 points.
His next test will be William Penn. The Bearcats held on for a 73-72 win against South Philly, setting up the tournament championship game between Reading High and the Bearcats at 4 p.m. Sunday in the tournament championship.
"What can't he do?" William Penn coach Clovis Gallon said about Walker. "He's 6-5. He can post you. He can shoot from a foot or so behind the 3-point line. He has great range on his jump shot. He can take one dribble and be at the rim. ... Hopefully he has an off day."
William Penn senior Jayden Iturmendi smiled when asked about facing Reading and Walker.
"It's just a great opportunity, you don't know how far you're going to make it," he said.
Even though much is expected from Walker and Reading, this isn't the same team that reached the state semifinals a year ago. Reading lost to nationally ranked Imhotep Charter out of Philadelphia on Friday night, and, although three transfers have bolstered its roster, Reading is still learning to play as a team. .
“Oh, we’re still a work in progress, everyone is still a work in progress no matter how good you are,” Walker said. “We still have a lot to build on and a lot to show.”
It's shocking to some that Walker is still with Reading. When people put a bug in Walker's ear to transfer to a powerhouse program years ago, he didn’t want any part of it. He stayed with his hometown school, not far from where his father, Lonnie Walker III, starred for Alvernia College.
"Let me follow my own path, let me create my own way, let me build my own highway," Walker said.
Looking back on what made him stay put, he added: "Just trust and faith."
He's just one player on the team, but he knows he is a unique type of player. All eyes focus on him when he walks in a gym.
“Whenever you hear Reading, you hear me,” Walker said.
And while that might sound like a heavy burden, he compared this last two years to being the little kid at a park, imagining the crowd going wild with his last-second shot. Only in Walker's case, the crowd really is going wild for him. So it's this odd give-and-take. He's a star, but he's still a teenager.
“It’s an amazing feeling, it gives me chills down my back when I think about it, little kids come up to me asking for autographs,” Walker said.
“But at the same time, at home, my parents humble me. I still have dishes to do. I’m not Lonnie from basketball."
William Penn 73, South Philadelphia 72: The Bearcats made all the big shots they needed to in the final minute and picked up their first win under head coach Clovis Gallon, who takes over the program this year after serving as a longtime assistant.
Kyree Generett iced the win, sinking a pair of free throws with 14.5 seconds left to play to provide the Bearcats with a four-point cushion. Jacquez Casiano also made a big play in the final minute, driving the lane to sink a layup to put the Bearcats on top.
Jayden Iturmendi scored a team-high 20 points in the Bearcats balanced scoring effort. Jeremiah McCarter (15 points), Casiano (15) and Generett (12) each scored in double figures. Clovis Gallon Jr. added seven points.
The big difference in the game, however, was shooting from the free-throw line. William Penn shot 24-of-30 from the charity stripe while South Philly went 7-for-22.