Warren native pursues NBA official goal

Special to Tribune Chronicle Warren native David Walker Jr. currently is proceeding through the NBA officials evaluation and training program

Warren native David Walker Jr. is one step closer to achieving his goal of becoming an NBA referee.

The 24-year old home school graduate made it past the first step of a three-step — or more specifically, three-camp — process that the NBA utilizes to train up-and-coming referees. Now it’s on to camp No. 2 for Walker.

From May 5-7, Walker attended a three-day camp in Dallas, the NBA Officials Evaluation Program Grassroots referee camp. His success at the camp earned him an invite to the May 19-21 NBA Mid-Level camp held in Hampton, Virginia.

“A lot of times, it takes three years before you make it through all three of the camps,” Walker said. “(After I booked a flight and arrived in Dallas) we had a meeting on Friday (May 5), and then we were assigned a game on Saturday. After the game, we met with an NBA or D-League (NBA Development League) referee, who went over the film with us for a half-hour to an hour and evaluated our performance.”

Walker said that at the entry-level camp, the focus was on pro-style refereeing and the mechanics of the game, including positioning, as opposed to just simply making the right calls and the wrong calls. He went on to say that the process was repeated on Sunday, as all of the referee hopefuls officiated 15-U games.

The Mid-Level camp will feature more of the same, but the referees will be challenged with a greater level of on-court play, as an AAU tournament is expected to take place over the weekend.

Should Walker make it past the Mid-Level camp, he would be invited to an Elite camp later this summer, which is followed by an interview. Should he get hired after the interview, Walker would have to go through two more instructional camps, before becoming a D-League ref later this fall.

For Walker, the son of former Howland baseball and basketball standout David Walker Sr., basketball was always an interest to him. In fact, he played for a home school team in high school (TEACH; Trumbull Educational Association of Christian Homeschools) and even received some interest from NCAA Division III basketball coaches to play at the next level.

Instead, Walker, who began refereeing in church league games at First Baptist Church in Howland as a high school senior, sought a higher purpose. As a deeply religious individual, Walker ultimately chose to attend Cincinnati’s God Bible School and College (GBS).

Walker is on track to receive a degree next year from the school, where he aspires to be a teacher someday. However, after taking a year off from officiating, and then doing high school and college games in the Cincinnati area starting three years back, he befriended an NBA scout who asked him a critical question.

“I got in touch with a former SEC (Southeastern Conference) referee and NBA scout, J.B. Caldwell,” Walker said. “He asked me, ‘How far do you want to go with this?’ And once he knew I wanted to go as far as I could, he got me into this (Grassroots) camp.”

Should he become a D-League ref this year, Walker would work a part-time schedule around his schooling, as the D-League pays on a per game basis, much like high school and college. The opportunity would also allow Walker to dial down his schedule, which has consisted of 500-600 games a year, including camps and AAU ball.

Thus far, he has experienced plenty of growth is his time as an official.

“My biggest area of development is learning how to be patient on the court,” Walker said. “Have a patient whistle and don’t react to plays, (but) respond to plays. The more court time, the more familiar I get with different plays and sets, the more film study (the better I become).”

The NBA employs its referees on a full-time basis, and Walker says that should he get the nod — in a process that takes about 3-5 years to go from the D-League to the NBA — he’ll be prepared for the possibility to fully commit to the profession.

As for the challenges of going from high school and college officiating to the NBA, the differences are like night and day. To the average fan, it may appear that NBA refs miss plenty of calls, but as Walker went on to explain, appearances are deceiving.

“There’s a massive gap from college to the NBA, and at that level, you’re more out of touch with the public,” Walker said. “College and high school officials don’t have the time and resources, and aren’t able to dedicate their time to studying film all day, because they have normal jobs.

“You wouldn’t go to a lawyer’s office and tell him he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Officials at that level have learned how to call a game a certain way and do things a certain way, due to the different training they do day-in and day-out. At the end of the day, I trust people who have spent their entire lives dedicated to officiating.”