Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Top freshman LeBrent Walker's at Bayside, but with eligibility in question
Written By: NY Daily News
It's become a parlor game of sorts, guessing where freshman sensation LeBrent Walker will wind up. If the PSAL enforces its eligibility rules, there's a chance he won't be playing basketball for any high school this season.
While Walker, one of the top freshmen in the city, flirted with Lincoln, Wings Academy and Cardozo, all citadels of city basketball, he wound up at ho-hum Bayside, a school that has rarely been known as home to a trumpeted basketball prospect.
Walker said he was scheduled to start classes at Bayside Monday and could see action on the hardwood as soon as Dec. 12 against Holy Cross. Bayside's players and new coach are already envisioning their rise with Walker in a Commodores uniform.
But nobody appeared to be worried about PSAL eligibility rules, which clearly prohibit a student who has been listed on an active roster in any public, parochial or private school from playing the same sport for a second school during the same season.
Walker began the school year at Our Savior New American, a private Christian school in Centereach, L.I., that plays a national hoops schedule and has sent dozens of players to Division I colleges.
As of last week, Walker was still on Our Savior's active basketball roster, according to assistant Eric Jaklitsch. Walker participated in a preseason game against Bay Shore and a scrimmage against, Lower Merion HS (Pa.).
Walker's situation is being reviewed by the PSAL, a spokeswoman told the Daily News Monday. Despite the seemingly unambiguous wording of the rule, Walker could be declared eligible to play at Bayside this season.
"Since he didn't transfer from a school in New York City, he may not fall under that rule because he's a freshman," said Marge Feinberg, the Department of Education spokeswoman. "We're currently looking at his records to see if he's eligible."
First-year Bayside coach Cory Semper said Walker had yet to practice with the Commodores, though the player said he started practicing last Tuesday and would await authorization from athletic director Joe Capuana to start suiting up for games.
Feinberg said that Walker should not have been playing with the team. "If he practiced, maybe it was off school grounds. He shouldn't be practicing in the school gym."
How Walker wound up at Bayside, which finished 6-12 last season, is just one of many questions surrounding this 6-1 lefthander, who possesses a feathery jump shot and a quick first step and is listed in national rankings among the top 20 in the Class of 2012.
"I'd rather start from the bottom then start from the top," said Walker. "Just because I go to a school that isn't known doesn't mean that I won't make it big. I know what people are saying: that I shouldn't be here. But that just motivates me to help Bayside become a good team."
Walker attended JHS 226 in South Ozone Park and the Department of Education did not grant his application for admission to his top school choices, Lincoln, Wings and Cardozo, coaches at all three schools said.
Feinberg would not disclose the reasons he was turned away. Walker says he declined an opportunity to attend Van Buren HS.
Instead, Walker, 15, took the placement test at Our Saviour on the first day of school. He was there until Nov. 14, when he left, citing his unhappiness with the commute and concern about paying the tuition, even though Jaklitsch said that his expenditures were "taken care of."
"We offered him a chance to stay with a host family but he wanted to stay home with his mother," said Bob Bass, an Our Savior assistant. "I know the last scrimmage he was in for us, he didn't play well. His shots weren't falling and maybe he was concerned about playing time. I don't know why he left. He never contacted us."
Walker's home life is something of a mystery, the subject of rumor and conflicting accounts that have been widely circulated in gyms throughout the city.
He was first spotted in the guidance office at Bayside last Tuesday by Carlos Solano, a senior guard who played club ball with Walker over the summer with Real Scout Express. News of his arrival first appeared on a local high school sports Web site.
"I saw him and was like, ‘What's he doing here?'" Solano said. "When I found out he was coming to the school I was real happy. He can help our team a lot."
Jaklitsch expressed shock and disappointment that Walker left Our Savior for Bayside.
"We play a national schedule against teams like St. Benedict's (N.J.) and Oak Hill (Va.) and Bayside plays against other public schools," he said. "I still don't understand why he transferred. He would have been a good addition to this program."
The Commodores might have benefited from Walker's help against Canarsie on Sunday in the opener of the Campus Magnet Thanksgiving Classic at York College. Bayside lost, 59-31.
"We could have used him today," Solano said afterward. "He's going to make things easier for everyone. He's also going to bring publicity to the school and give us all more shine."
Walker didn't see his team play on Sunday, but he turned up in time to watch the second and third games of the tournament.
"I can't wait to start classes and playing with my teammates," Walker said. "I chose this school because it's close to my house and it's good academically. I know I can come in and help the team right away."
To all those who have loudly touted Walker's potential, talent evaluator Tom Konchalski offered a word of caution:
"The worst thing that he has to watch out for is the cancer of his own success, where people are already writing his success story," Konchalski said. "He's yet to play a game in high school and he doesn't even have a resume yet.
"Everyone's looking for the next big thing," he added. "But I don't know a freshman who's a superstar."