Walker receives passing grade
BY Stephen Tsai
Hawai'i volleyball player Joshua Walker is a highly skilled hitter, blocker and server.
All that is left is for Walker to maintain a passing grade of at least 2.0.
Walker's passing was the only deficiency in his overall game. It became his primary emphasis entering the offseason.
After playing in a national tournament in Minnesota and beach volleyball in Virginia the past summer, Walker, a junior left-side hitter, showed remarkable improvement in his passing during fall training.
The Warriors employ a three-point system for rating passes. A score of 3 is a perfect pass that enables the setter a full menu of options. A score of 2 allows the setter to feed the opposite and outside hitters. A score of 0 is a pass that results in a shank, overpass or ace.
Walker is averaging about 2.0 during practices and exhibition matches.
"One of the first conversations we had," said Charlie Wade, who was hired as UH's head coach in May, "was: 'touch the volleyball as much as you can.' "
That was not a problem for a player with a reputation for inconsistent passing.
"His whole career — and it's no different in practice — he gets served every ball," Wade said. "He's the target on everybody's scouting report."
Wade said Walker, in turn, tried to benefit from that strategy.
"He's gotten so many extra reps," Wade said. "He expects the ball to come to him. Emotionally, he's handled that better. He's thinking: 'I'm getting served all of the time. This is one of the things I do. I will receive serve on every play.' He grabbed onto that, that it's really going to be a role for him. He knows that for him to be on the floor, and to be out there the entire time, he has to be better at (passing)."
Walker said: "You're only going to be bad at something for so long if you get lots and lots of practice. I've been working really hard. I got a lot of passing reps on the beach. I'm not nearly worried about passing anymore."
In the past, Walker worked on creating a platform with his forearms in a straight, face-up position, then swinging his arms to direct passes to the setter.
During fall training, Walker worked on his footwork. As a former basketball player, he reverted to the basics of playing hoops defense: use quickness to move into position.
"The best pass is in front of you," Walker said. "If I can get right in front of the ball, it's going to be a lot easier (to pass) than trying to focus on the angles all of the time. Coach told me to focus more on my footwork."
Walker's improved passing has earned him a starting spot as the left-side complement to freshman opposite attacker Jonas Umlauft. Wade said there are no questions about Walker's play near the net.
At 6 feet 2, Walker can touch 11 feet 7 1/2, the highest among the Warriors.
"And it's a fast jump," Wade said. "Fast arm. Fast jump. It's hard to beat that combination"