Culture / Sporting Life

Energy Man — How Never-Give-Up Ramon Walker Jr. Jolts Kelvin Sampson’s Deepest National Championship Contender Yet

The Next Sampson Culture Guy May Be Stepping Forward Already

BY // 11.13.23

Ramon Walker Jr. goes into the Fertitta Center stands, still bringing the energy. He’ll hug his mom Sharanda and wrap his former roommate Ja’Vier Francis’ uncle, Troy Randle, in an embrace too. Families of players in Kelvin Sampson’s University of Houston program get close too and Randle won’t let Walker go without telling him how impressed he is.

“I told him he’s got the confidence in his shot back,” Randle tells PaperCity. “I see it. Once that happens, the sky’s the limit. I love that kid.”

Ramon Walker Jr. is loved by a lot of people involved in this UH program for who is he, what he’s overcome and how he’s stuck around. Walker stepped away from the team to deal with things off the court, including his mental health, for a stretch last season and ended up being medically redshirted. Now he’s back and two games into a season where his status in Houston’s beyond deep guard and wing rotation seemed to be in some question, Walker is already emerging as an invaluable energy guy.

Take Houston’s 82-50 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in Game 2. With Sampson’s No. 7 team in the land more sluggish than one of the Sloths working in the DMV in Zootopia, Walker pops off the bench and changes everything. By bringing the energy. Coming into the game for the first time with 11:32 left in the first half, Walker immediately steals the ball and hits a 3-pointer. He’ll add another three before the end of the first half, hustle and defend all over the court, helping stabilize a team that only gets six minutes from All-American point guard candidate Jamal Shead (two fouls) in the first half.

“That’s his job,” UH coach Kelvin Sampson says of Walker. “He’s an energy guy. I think it’s his greatest strength. He has improved in a lot of areas. He has a very direct role on this team. I felt like last year’s team missed him.”

Walker helped an injury-riddled, undermanned Houston team make it all the way to Elite Eight in 2022, playing in what was essentially reduced to a seven-man rotation. Now he’s part of Sampson’s deepest UH team yet, a 10-deep force already ranked seventh in the nation that has put up 59 bench points in two games heading into Monday night’s home game with Stetson.

This is by design. Sampson’s wanted a team that could come at opponents in waves, one that can get away with Shead only playing 19 minutes (two points, four assists, six rebounds) in these early season games.

“One of the things this team was constructed on was depth,” Sampson says. “It was hard to play only seven guys (in 2022). The year we played in the Elite Eight and lost to Villanova, our kids were really worn down in the month of March. Because of having to play 35, 37 minutes almost every night. Our legs from Arizona to Villanova were shot.

“And you just made mental notes. We’ve got to get deeper. We’ve got to be able to play more guys. We’ve got to cut this guy’s minutes down. And get more depth. Especially in the backcourt.”

Shead, LJ Cryer (one of the best shooters in America who will show that soon enough), Emanuel Sharp and Damian Dunn are the stars of this deep backcourt. And true sophomore Terrance Arceneaux (five points, eight rebounds, a block and a steal against Corpus Christi) and Mylik Wilson (plus 23 in plus/minus in just 17 minutes in Game Two) are important pieces too.

But Ramon Walker Jr., the guy forgotten by many, brings something no one else can. A relentless energy and scrappiness that comes from having overcome. A fight that never stops.

University of Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson visited with Drew Richards, head coach of the UNC Pembroke Braves, his alma mater, before an exhibition contest
University of Houston guard Ramon Walker Jr. brings some toughness. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

There is a reason that Ramon Walker is loved by his teammates just as much as he’s loved by the Houston coaching staff that never forgot about him.

“He’s doing the same thing in practice,” Arceneaux tells PaperCity. “His energy never turns off. Every day in practice, he just competes. So we know when he going to the game, he know what we’re expecting. And he goes out there and delivers.

“He brings the energy.”

Ramon Walker is like a value meal come to life, a can of Red Bull that’s actually good for you.

Damian Dunn, the Temple transfer who knows hard-nosed Philadelphia Big 5 Basketball, raves about Walker too.

Culture Man

Ramon Walker Jr. just might be this year’s Sampson Culture Guy, following in the footsteps of beloved Cougars like Chris Harris Jr., Justin Gorham and the late Reggie Chaney.

Put Walker in the game and watch the energy change. There are new puppies who are less disruptive to an environment. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi certainly understands that now. Walker finishes with eight points, seven rebounds and that introductory steal in just 14 minutes. This is someone who packs a lot of good into his time on the court.

Walker is like a value meal come to life, a can of Red Bull that’s actually good for you.

To create the type of deep team capable of running all the way through March Madness that Kelvin Sampson decided he needed, an energy man like Ramon Walker is essential.

“He’s doing the same thing in practice. His energy never turns off. Every day in practice, he just competes.” — Terrance Arceneaux on teammate Ramon Walker Jr.

University of Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson coached the Cougars’ opening night game over the University of Louisiana, Monroe
Emanuel Sharp (from left), J’Wan Roberts, Mylik Wilson, Ramon Walker Jr. and LJ Cryer know there a lot of answers on this UH roster. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

“We pride ourselves on our depth,” Dunn says. “I knew from like day one. Coach Samps always said we were going to be deep. We just have to use it the right way. My thing with that, everybody had to do their part. Do their job.

“But when we’re all doing what we’re supposed to be doing, we can win a lot of games.”

Walker can help pave the way for another long March run. Just by being himself.

For more of Chris Baldwin’s extensive, detailed and unique insider coverage of UH sports — the type of stories you cannot read absolutely anywhere else — bookmark this page. Follow Baldwin on Twitter here.

Catch up on more of PaperCity’s unmatched coverage here:

LJ Cryer Brings a Hidden Edge to UH Basketball

Emanuel Sharp’s Obsessive Post Practice Shooting Routine Gives Houston Basketball an Early Edge

Jim Nantz to Do Spring Break With Kelvin Sampson 

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