Joe Walker admitted he swallowed hard when the phone call came that he had a new job.
Walker is taking the reins of the State College boys’ basketball program.
“It’s one of the schools that does have an opportunity, at least, to put its name on the map,” Walker said Monday night after the State College Area School Board approved Walker’s appointment to lead the Little Lions.
Leading the basketball team, like just about every other sport at the school, comes with some built-in pressure and expectations to succeed.
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“Other districts even look to State College,” Walker said. “They kind of get motivated to play State College because they’re kind of the big dog in the area. ... It’s a bigger school that does have a lot of resources.”
While the region may not be known for a deep and rich history in the sport, State College has done well, winning a PIAA title in 2003 to go with piles of District 6 titles and deeps runs in the state tournament.
“I was really excited,” Walker said of learning of his appointment. “But when you think of basketball in Pennsylvania, people think of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and the districts in between that nobody ever hears of. That’s why it was really impressive in (2003) when State College beat Chester. It was historic, and I don’t think I’m overstating this, nobody would ever give a team like that a chance.”
Walker takes over for Drew Frank, who resigned from the post in March after the Little Lions completed a 4-21 season. It was a rare campaign in which the team struggled during Frank’s 18 seasons.
Despite the down season, Walker does not anticipate there needs to be any major rebuilding.
“I think everyone thought it was an aberration,” Walker said. “There’s obviously work to do, just getting them on the same page, but I hope to transition smoothly with some of the stuff we used at the middle school.”
Walker is a general science teacher at Mount Nittany Middle School, where he has been teaching for the last six years. He’s also a local product, graduating from Central Mountain and Lock Haven University, where he also played basketball.
He’s also been the head coach for the Mount Nittany boys’ team for the last four seasons. Frank shared his visions and ideas with the other programs in the district to keep continuity through the system, and Walker plans to continue some of those aspects while also implementing some new ideas of his own.
He’s optimistic about next season, with six seniors leaving but plenty of athletes returning, but didn’t want to overstate what kind of goals he wanted to set for his first season leading the Little Lions.
“It’s kind of that double-edged sword,” Walker said. “You can be too ambitious, and feel you’re going let everyone down, but coming back I think we can be competitive in the district. But I also want to be successful in implementing a program that can continue to improve on personal goals to get a lot of younger kids involved like the elementary schools in the district.”