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To maintain Northeastern’s tradition of strong point guard play, Bill Coen has surely developed some of the best license plate game skills of any coach in the country.
Coen went to Minnesota to unearth Matt Janning, to Tennessee to find Chase Allen, to Michigan to recruit Jonathan Lee, to Ohio to lure David Walker, to Texas to scout T.J. Williams and all the way to California to land Vasa Pusica as a transfer from San Diego. Everyone except Lee earned all-CAA first-team honors at least once while Walker and Pusica led the Huskies to the NCAA Tournament.
But Coen saw a whole bunch of familiar local license plates while recruiting freshman Tyson Walker, who already looks like the heir apparent for the point guard-rich Huskies.
Walker, a native of Long Island who went to high school at national powerhouse Christ The King in Queens, N.Y., before a postgrad year at New Hampton in New Hampshire, enters tonight’s game against defending Conference USA champion Old Dominion having played 100 minutes in the Huskies’ first three games, all of which he started.
“We have an opportunity for Tyson to kind of come in here and have his turn at running the point,” Coen said. “He’s done an outstanding job early on here. Obviously, he’s got room to grow, but what you love about Tyler is his presence, his personality, his vision, his feel for the game and his ability to get other people involved in the game as well as him.”
Those traits are pretty important for any point guard, but especially one running Coen’s ball screen offense, which is predicated on constant motion. Walker said he quickly became enamored with the Huskies’ style of play during his recruitment.
Not at all surprising to see Tyson Walker take CAA Rookie of the Week right off the bat for Northeastern. https://t.co/gUqoa6VIz6— Adam Finkelstein (@AdamFinkelstein) November 11, 2019
“When I came to my visit, saw the school and saw how they played, I said ‘I like this, this is the way I like to play,’” Walker said. “I really liked the coaches have been doing it for a long time.”
Given the caliber of competition Walker faced the previous five years, Coen was confident he he could immediately replace Pusica, who graduated in the spring after leading the Huskies to back-to-back 14-win seasons in CAA play and the CAA tournament title last year.
“When you’ve got a guy who played at Christ The King against that great talent level in the Catholic League in New York City, has been on the sneaker circuit and achieved at a really high level and then he goes on to New Hampton, arguably the best high school prep league in the country, and performed at a high level, you have to have a good sense that he can come in and be an impact player,” Coen said.
The point guards have traditionally been do-everything guys for Coen — Pusica led the Huskies in scoring and assists in each of the last two seasons, as did Williams in 2016-17, David Walker in 2015-16, Lee in 2011-12 and Allen in 2010-11 — but the presence of seniors Jordan Roland and Bolden Brace ease Walker’s transition to the role. Roland opened the season by scoring 39 points against Boston University and a school-record 42 against Harvard while Brace earned CAA sixth man of the year honors two seasons ago.
“They’ve helped a lot,” Walker said. “They never really let me get down on myself. (they) pick me up (and) really helped me out. If I’ve got questions, they can answer them.”
There’s one notable player missing from the list of Coen-era point guards who led the Huskies in points and assists — Janning, who set the standard for Coen by starting all four seasons at the position. Few recent players in the CAA saw the court like Janning, who was dubbed the league’s Wayne Gretzky by ex-Hofstra head coach Tom Pecora because of his knack for seeing a basket develop two plays ahead of time, and making the pass that led to the assist.
There’s a long way to go for Walker, who is averaging 9.3 points while posting an assist-to-turnover ratio of 7-to-7. But Coen has already seen flashes that indicate Walker can enjoy a Janning-esque run at the most important position on the floor, especially as Walker adds more muscle to his 6-foot, 162-pound frame. Walker, who graduated high school at age 17, said he gained 21 pounds during his season with New Hampton.
“I think there were times in summer workouts when you walk off the court and you said ‘You know what, he was the best player on the court today,’” Coen said. “I think for him, his growth is going to be how do you do it night in and night out. That’s what the great ones do, and the first-team, all-conference guys. They answer the bell. They don’t show flashes of greatness. They have consistency and he has that level feeling.
“I think he could be, when you look back over the course of his career, I think he’s going to earn a lot of honors and be a terrific player in this program.”