Call it discipline, maturity, or self-mastery. It’s that quality a college athlete, however gifted, must cultivate in order to realize her full potential. Stanton’s Candy Walls has accomplished a lot in three years of basketball at Berea College, but her senior year, now beginning, promises much, much more. She’s learned how to govern her explosive game with poise and self-assurance.
A standout in basketball, volleyball, track and field, and cross country at Powell County High School, Walls saw athletics as her ticket to college after she graduated in 2005. She received attractive offers from big schools that liked her possibilities as a track athlete, but Walls decided that “basketball was my number one love.” She saw her best chance to make an immediate impact at Berea College, an NAIA school where Coach Bunky Harkleroad had recently installed a frenetic running and gunning style that would lead the nation in scoring year after year. Always a hustling, hard-driving competitor, Walls believed she could excel at Berea. But her fit was not entirely smooth, on the court or off.
“I wasn’t the most respectful person when I got to Berea,” Walls admits. “I thought I should be playing at a bigger school, so I had the big head. But I’ve discovered I’m lucky. I’ve had a great opportunity and a great coach to push me along. He’s helped me develop into the player I am now.”
Berea’s fast-paced system rewards aggressiveness, but it must be purposive. A player has to learn to be as aggressive as she can without playing out of control. Walls could score and rebound for a team that needed a lot of points and rebounds, but she showed an alarming tendency to hurl herself into the action so recklessly that she also piled up the negative statistics of fouls and turnovers.
“I’m emotional,” she explains. “I have a temper. When I compete, I can get angry with an opponent. I had to learn to channel my emotions differently. If something doesn’t go my way, I have to make up for it by stealing the ball or grabbing the next rebound, not whacking my opponent on the arm. I don’t want foul trouble to keep me on the bench.
“Decision making has been an issue for me. I’m naturally impulsive. If I thought I had an opportunity to make something happen, I’d whip it there without even thinking. I had to control that. Bunky taught me how to calm down just enough to take a quick breather, make the right decision, then make the play. I get the positive results I want with fewer turnovers.”
Walls needed to control her destiny off the court as well. Students admitted to Berea pay no tuition, but all of them must work at college jobs to help defray the costs of their education. No exceptions are made for athletes, who play sports in whatever time is left after they’ve fulfilled their academic and labor obligations. Although every athlete at Berea is a walk-on, its teams hold their own by attracting competitors who are uniquely committed. Was Walls committed enough?
“Basketball was not the toughest adjustment. I got to learn and grow as an individual here because they expected me to be a student as well as an athlete. I had to learn to manage my time and my money, to get up in the morning and go to work and go to class. At first I struggled. I would stay up late, stay in bed in the morning, miss classes, neglect my work until the last minute. My grades were low. But now I am getting to bed early, going to class, getting my assignments done. No more C’s and D’s. I haven’t made below a B since the beginning of my junior year, and this year I have straight A’s so far. That’s a dramatic change!”
Walls works as part of a Student Life Team that sets up for campus special events and functions. Her academic major is Physical Education, Wellness and Health Promotion. After graduation in 2009 she’ll pursue an advanced degree in PE. She hopes eventually to become a strength and conditioning coach at an NCAA Division-1 school, working with a baseball or basketball team. A summer-long internship this year at Wake Forest University with Ethan Reeve, one of the most respected strength coaches in the country, helped Walls focus her career plans.
Berea’s last three women’s basketball teams have represented the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference at the NAIA-II national tournament in Sioux City, Iowa. Walls is the only senior on this year’s team, and if the Lady Mountaineers can win the KIAC tournament again next February, she’ll become the only player in Berea history to have played in the nationals in each of four years. It’s very early in the 2008-09 season, but Walls is delivering affirmative answers to any lingering questions about her discipline, maturity, and self-mastery. As she sees it, “At Berea I’ve grown from a child to an adult. And on the court, I’ve grown from a selfish player to a player who thinks first about the team.”
Harkleroad says, “Candy is a terrific athlete who has improved her game each year. She plays very hard and pushes herself each time she steps on the floor. Now Candy is showing a lot of maturity and is making a great effort to be a team leader. She is supporting her teammates and is also setting the example of how to be a student-athlete.”
Junior point guard Annbruce Madden adds, “Candy is the type of all-around player that players love to have on their team. If there's a loose ball anywhere near her, she's going to get it. If we're in a slump, or need a steal or a bucket, Candy is that player we can count on nine out of ten times to get us those hustle plays. She's a leader on and off the court and never gives up, which is what we love most about her.”
Harkleroad is known for using every player on his roster in every game, substituting five in and five out every 60 seconds or so with no player averaging more than 21 or 22 minutes per game. In her first three years at Berea, Walls averaged 19.7 minutes in the 93 games she played. For every 40 minutes she contributed 25.8 points and 13.5 rebounds. Her per-40 averages as a junior, when she was named to the All-KIAC team, were 27.8 points and 16.3 rebounds. In the three games Berea has played this season, the 5-8 guard has been on the floor for 63 minutes and 35 seconds and tallied 75 points, 38 rebounds, and 16 steals. Any way you do the math, that’s impressive production.
But while Walls generates a unique excitement and charisma, she has embraced the team-oriented, participatory philosophy that Harkleroad has implemented at Berea. The Lady Mountaineers always seem to win more than their share of games with a team that is more than the sum of its parts.
Asked about a defining moment, Walls recalls, “A year ago we played Menlo College at their tournament in California. They were ranked in the national Top Ten at our level, and they had the number one shooter in the nation. But we won! Basketball can be one ugly game, but when everything clicks and everybody plays together, when you combine it all, you can be perfect. In that game we were perfect. That was the sweetest moment ever.
“But I want everyone to know how excited I am this year. I can win with this team, or I can lose with this team, because I know at the end of the day we will have tried our hardest. Individually we’re not great, but if you put us together, we are. There is no one outstanding player, but together we’re fun to watch.
“Our first goal is to have good chemistry and get along with each other. Our second goal is to go back to nationals. I think this will be the best season we have ever had.”
Walls is the daughter of Robin Drake of Stanton and Ernie Walls of Huntingdon, PA.