About 2,000 ways to be happy

Marist’s Walker enjoying life as one of county’s all-time scoring leaders

Tara Walker had just received a nice, freshly painted basketball, with the number "2,000" in bold, blue numerals splashed across the front.

It was symbolic of the Marist High School girls’ basketball player becoming not only the 10th player in Hudson County – boys and girls combined – to reach the historic milestone, but also becoming the all-time leading scorer in the history of the school.

"It’s a great honor for me," Walker said. "But it’s not something I focus on. I’m not into the individual things. I’m focused on other things, like our team. I really don’t care about it."

Still, when you consider all the great players that have graced Hudson County basketball over the past century and only 10 have scored 2,000 points, with Walker being the 10th, then it is impressive.

"If you say so," Walker says with a smile. "You can say it is. I don’t want to think about that now. I’m really having a lot of fun playing with my team and winning."

Maybe those are the two key catch phrases here. For Tara Walker, right now, it’s all about having fun and winning. And she’s doing a lot of both lately.

The Lady Knights are currently 17-2 and ranked among the Top 20 in the state. And for the first time in Walker’s brilliant career, she’s relieved herself of the burden of having to try to do everything to help the team win. She can be more free of herself and in turn, that has made her teammates that much better.

Of course, with the freedom comes the more relaxed, carefree attitude. There’s a lot of happiness in the face of Walker these days.

"I used to feel like I had something to prove every night," Walker said. "It was like I had to perform up to someone else’s standards. I felt like I had to carry the whole team. Now, I just go out and have fun and win. There is no pressure. I feel more comfortable on the court and it feels better to be out there."

The carefree approach seems to be working wonders for both the Lady Knights and their All-State performer. Because she’s doing a little bit of everything to help the Knights win.

After scoring 25 points and collecting 14 rebounds in the win over Ferris – the night when Walker reached the prestigious 2,000-point plateau – Walker scored 22 points and had 21 rebounds against arch nemesis Bayonne. She then scored 14 points in a win against Lincoln and collected a triple-double (22 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) in the 61-51 win over North Bergen.

For her efforts, Walker has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.

Walker likes playing the role of team leader and not team carrier. Of course, she has been paired with another brilliant player, Makeda Gleaton, for the last four years. The two have combined to score more than 3,700 points and grab 2,000 rebounds over that time span.

But the Knights have other players as well, like Jen Lewandowski, Angela Fitzgerald, Kim Reid and Kathryn Mariano who have helped Walker shine this season.

"We have a team of great players and everyone is playing well," Walker said. "Everything is really going real well for us. I don’t have to score all the time. Nor does Makeda. Everyone is contributing and that’s a great feeling. Believe it or not, at this stage of my career, I feel better when I get 15 assists than if I scored 35 points. That shows the kind of player and person that I am."

"The one thing about Tara is that you would never know what she’s accomplished," Marist head coach Bill DeFazio said. "She has really matured as a player and a person. She’s so unselfish and that’s the key. She’s the most unselfish player I’ve ever coached, maybe too unselfish at times."

DeFazio and Harrison coach Jack Rodgers are the only two coaches to have had the privilege of coaching more than one 2,000-point scorer. DeFazio coached Kim Lee, the all-time HCIAA scoring leader (1987) at St. Anthony. Rodgers had current Kearny head coach Jodi Hill and current St. Peter’s College player, Kim McDonough, the all-time scoring leader with 2,760 points.

But Walker isn’t even thinking about scoring records. She has one thing in mind. Better yet, make that two.

"The county and state championships," Walker said. "We just want to keep it going and focus on winning. We’re playing hard and winning. It can’t get any better for us."

There’s another thing weighing on Walker’s mind – and that’s her collegiate choice. She has offers from major schools, such as Auburn, UCLA and Seton Hall, but has also started to consider smaller schools, like Rider and Fordham.

"Honestly, when I go home after games or a practice, I wonder where I will be next year," Walker said. "Right now, I focus on us being on top. I know that I will be somewhere. It’s just a matter of where. I want to keep the door open to everyone. Everyone knows that I haven’t signed yet, so I’m leaving the door open. I knew I was going to wait until the spring to make my decision. I didn’t want to rush. I wanted to get my SAT [Scholastic Aptitude Test] scores up."

There were some reports that Walker didn’t have the necessary test scores or grades to be eligible to play as a freshman. Walker denied those reports.

"I don’t worry about the people who have something negative to say about me," Walker said. "I’m going to be able to play in college. And no matter where I go, I’ll get the scholarship."

Walker didn’t want to have the talk of college interrupt her happy mood.

"It’s really all falling into place for me, for us, for everyone," Walker said. "I just want to keep it going."

However, what about the legacy part? About passing Roscoe Harris and becoming the all-time leading scorer in the history of Marist?

"It really is an elite group," DeFazio said. "When she was a freshman, I thought that she had a shot at 2,000, if everything went right. But it’s an impressive mark. They are all kids who have left their mark in Hudson County history and Tara has done that."

"Maybe when I go off to college, I can think back and say, ‘Wow,’ but I can’t do that now," Walker said. "I really don’t think it’s truly hit me yet. It is a great honor and achievement, but I would rather win than score."

However, there was a glimmer of acceptance.

"But it is a lot of points," Walker laughed. "Right?"

Sure is. – Jim Hague


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