The Real Origin Story of Jarace Walker — A Family of Nurses, Those Giant Hands and A Drive to Share Make UH’s New Star a Very Different Freshman
A Four Dunk Night Against Texas Southern May Rule the Highlights, But Kelvin Sampson Sees Much MoreBY Chris Baldwin // 11.17.22
University of Houston freshman forward Jarace Walker is already showing how much of an impact player he can be. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston guard Marcus Sasser continues to raise his game. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The University of Houston basketball coaching staff is one of the best in the game, led by Kelvin Sampson. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston point guard Jamal Shead is in control of the Cougars' diverse and deep attack. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston super freshman Jarace Walker has some outside skills too. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston forward Ja'Vier Francis brings some serious skills. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Marcus Sasser is always looking for the opening in a defense. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston wing Terrance Arceneaux always seems to do something with his time on the court. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston guard Tramon Mark is making the most of his return. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Marcus Sasser's shooting stroke is pure. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
UH's Ramon Walker Jr. just keeps finding a way to make an impact, whether playing guard or undersized power forward. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
University of Houston guard Marcus Sasser is back, making big plays on the basketball court. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
J'Wan Roberts knows all about grabbing hard rebounds. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jarace Walker comes from a family of nurses, a family of powerful women really. And when the University of Houston’s freshman game changer first arrived on the scene, one of his mom’s sisters — an obstetric nurse who helped deliver him — somehow immediately recognized his future.
“She says ‘My God, look at his hands. You just need to put that on a basketball and just leave it there,’ ” Donna Solomon-Thompson, Jarace Walker’s aunt, laughs.
“At birth, when he came out of my womb, that’s what my second sister said,” Jarace’s mom Marcia Walker tells PaperCity.
Donna Solomon-Thompson and Marcia Walker share these stories in the lobby of the Fertitta Center having just watched Marcia’s youngest show why he’s anything but an ordinary freshman basketball player. Jarace Walker’s just dropped in 19 points, while missing only two shots, in UH’s 83-48 wipeout of a Texas Southern team that’s already beaten one Power 5 team this season (Arizona State) and very well could be dancing again in March. Johnny Jones’ Texas Southern squads are used to playing some of the most elite teams in the country (the Tigers have already played at Texas Tech and they get Kansas in a few weeks). But Jones has no answers for the unique problems Walker provides.
UH’s already battering-ram built, 6-foot-8 agile jumping machine throws down four dunks, hits a difficult, driving twisting layup, drills the only 3-pointer he takes, finds his front court buddy J’Wan Roberts for a wide open dunk with a quick-vision pass and challenges TSU shot after shot. Walker also finishes a game-best plus 34 in the plus/minus ratings.
Afterwards, Marcia Walker’s son finds himself surrounded by a group of five to six kids in the back hallway off the court, looking for his autograph. Walker stops and signs for every one of them, with most of them wanting him to scrawl his signature right on the shirt they’re wearing.
That’s the kind of thing mom approves of — and expects from her son.
“He’s just a good kid,” Marcia Walker says. “Works hard.”
“And humble,” Donna Solomon-Thompson adds.
Kelvin Sampson, UH’s basketball lifer of a coach, believes in prima donnas about as much as Bill Belichick believes in sleeves. And it’s already apparent that Houston’s old school coach sees none of that look-at-me-attitude in Jarace Walker. Sampson even lets Walker come into the interview room after this game, No. 3 Houston’s fourth game of the season. That may be the soonest Sampson’s ever brought a true freshman into the interview room.
Then again, Jarace Walker is no ordinary freshman.
“When I say this I mean it,” Sampson says. “Jarace has no ego. He doesn’t. His ego is winning.”
Walker could be the first one-and-done player of Kelvin Sampson’s nine year run at Houston, a potential NBA lottery pick. But having three older sisters will keep a guy humble. His mom and aunt used to drag Walker to his older sister Sherelle’s volleyball games, with Jarace itching to play his own games the whole time.
“He would bounce that basketball in the corner (of the gym),” Marcia Walker tells PaperCity. “He would be bouncing and bouncing and bouncing that ball.”
“He bounced that ball and annoyed us,” Donna Solomon-Thompson laughs.
Sherelle Walker went on to play college volleyball at UMBC. Another of Jarace Walker’s sisters is a senior forward on Saint Joseph’s women’s basketball team. Jaden Walker’s made the Atlantic 10 Commissioner’s Honor Roll too for her work in the classroom. UH’s super freshman is used to having successful strivers around him. He grew up surrounded by them. In many ways, he was the one who had to work to keep up early on.
Now, Walker’s keeping up with Marcus Sasser, the former unheralded three star recruit who’s turned himself into a preseason All-American guard in this UH development-driven program. And a legitimate NBA dreamer in his own right.
“He’s special,” Johnny Jones says of Sasser. “I had a chance to go watch (former TSU and UH center) Brison Gresham go to the pre-draft camp in Chicago and I saw Sasser was there and I thought at the time he may have been the best guard that was there in the pre-draft camp. That’s how highly I think of him.”
Sasser was really just starting to return to playing from the broken foot that ended his season last December in that summer pre-draft camp. He’s even better now, more in control of his game and every game these dominant 4-0 Cougars play. On this Wednesday night, Sasser puts up a 20 point, six assist, five rebound, two steal line. He never has anything but total command of this game despite going 0 for 6 from 3-point range.
It’s the first time Sasser’s played in a game for UH and not made a 3-pointer since the Cougars’ second round NCAA Tournament win over Rutgers in the Final Four year, a span of 19 games. And Sasser is still as effective as ever.
Of course, it helps when you’re playing with another elite guard like Jamal Shead (eight points on four shots, six assists). And it helps when you have someone like Jarace Walker to throw the ball to down low.
“Just listening really to the game plan,” Sasser says about a night in which UH racks up 19 assists and always seems to be moving the ball. “The game plan was get the ball inside. And coach gives us the freedom to call plays. And Jamal’s a great point guard and he knows how to read defenses. He was just calling the right play.
“And we was just feeding the right guys. It makes it easier for us when our front court is doing good like that.”
That’s the thing. Jarace Walker’s talent may leap out — sometimes literally on those explosive man dunks — but this 19-year-old natural is all about making life easier for his teammates. Sampson sometimes gets on Walker for passing too eagerly when he has a good matchup.
You learn to share when you grow up with three older sisters too.
“I love Coach Sampson’s style. And Jarace needed — you know he’s very talented — so I know Coach Sampson will make him play hard and build on that talent. And not just depend on his talent.” — Marcia Walker
Why Jarace Walker and His Mom Picked Houston
Marcia Walker enjoys watching her son put up 19 points and six rebounds against Texas Southern. She appreciates the highlight plays, all those dunks, sure. But mom is thinking of the bigger picture. About how much better her youngest can become in all sorts of other areas. That’s why she felt Kelvin Sampson’s UH program stood out as the right fit for a player almost any program in America would have wanted.
“I love Coach Sampson’s style,” Marcia Walker tells PaperCity. “And Jarace needed — you know he’s very talented — so I know Coach Sampson will make him play hard and build on that talent.
“And not just depend on his talent.”
“The guy that’s making our defense better is Jarace. I saw him do some things tonight that’s really going to help us going forward.” — UH coach Kelvin Sampson on freshman Jarace Walker
With Walker’s aunt living in Houston (Donna Solomon-Thompson laughs recalling how often UH’s assistant coaches asked her to put in a good word for the school early in his recruiting process), his mom always has an easy place to stay when she travels in to watch her son. She doesn’t worry about him being far from home. Jarace Walker has a number of cousins in the Houston area too — and Walker taught his mom not to worry as a 14-year-old when he convinced her to let him go away to attend IMG Academy, the famed elite sports boarding school in Bradenton, Florida.
“He’s always been mature,” Marcia Walker says. “When he decided — well, he was 14. When he wanted to go, I’m like ‘Jarace, I don’t know.’ He’s like ‘Mom, I really want to go. Don’t let the reason you don’t send me be because you’re going to miss me.’ ”
Marcia Walker shakes her head with a smile in the long emptied out Fertitta Center. What kind of 14-year-old thinks to say that?
Yes, Jarace Walker has always been ahead of the game in many ways. His aunt will tell you really since he came out of the womb and everyone saw those hands. Now Walker looks like he’s ahead of college basketball as a freshman, already stacking up Wow Plays for a 4-0 UH team that’s won every game by at least 26 points. A team that Johnny Jones refers to as the “No. 1 team in the country” no less than three times. Officially securing that ranking looks like it just will be a matter of time for Sampson’s most talented UH team ever.
Kelvin Sampson doesn’t care that much about the Wow Plays though. UH’s coach is more excited about the little things Jarace Walker is starting to do. The defensive things.
“The guy that’s making our defense better is Jarace,” Sampson says. “I saw him do some things tonight that’s really going to help us going forward. The great thing about this young man is how coachable he is. He tries to do everything you ask him to do.
“He’s getting better. He’s improving.”
That is a scary thought for other elite teams in college basketball. And just what mom expected from her son coming to Houston. Yes, the star freshman is already relishing diving on the floor too, trying to match teammates like Sasser, Shead and Roberts’ unrelenting intensity.
“It makes you want to take it to another level when you see a brother down on the floor for a loose ball and taking charges,” Walker says.
“This is fun,” Donna Solomon-Thompson says of a night at a packed Fertitta Center.
More fun than ever with Jarace Walker doing things ahead of schedule. As usual.