"1st Mr. Basketball Illinois” - Walter Downing (Episode 4)
In this episode we meet Walter Downing, a McDonalds’ All-American, the first Mr. Basketball (1981) of Illinois, a collegiate player at both Marquette and DePaul, and a Los Angeles Laker draft choice during the Kareem & Magic years.
In the first part Walter goes back to the start as an 8th grader and his impact on the Providence HS program. A third place State finish as a freshman, a State champ as a sophomore, and the epic OT battle against the #1 team in the U.S. (Quincy) during his Jr. year at the Pontiac tournament solidified him as a major player in Illinois HS history. We also discuss his uncanny knack for blocking shots.
In the middle segment we get a look into the recruiting process of Walter. He agonized over the choice of playing for either Ray Meyer (DePaul) or Rick Majerus (Marquette). The expectations placed on him early, especially by the Chicago media, caused Walter to begin to doubt himself. DePaul was a national powerhouse then and NBA star Mark Aguirre had just left. Yes, an All-American and teammate of Michael Jordan in 2 national all-star games, was having to deal with the issues that lesser players think was only their problem. He persevered, grew from it, and changed scenery. In the end, his stay at Marquette ironically was like going home again.
The last section hits on his short time with the NBA champ LA Lakers. The trials of rookie camp and the prospect of having to guard multiple Hall of Fame players are brought to light. A strong camp had him on the verge of making the team, but an unfortunate knee injury put an end to that. After a few pro years in Europe, though, Walter turned to his other early love—“music”. He relates how both are related to each other and even gives us a sample of his bass “chops”. He has gone so far as being a member and manager of the band Funkshunal Groove.
I wish I could have kept the tape rolling! Some later stories of Michael Jordan, his thoughts on coaching young players today, and his views on education unfortunately will have to be revisited on a later show. We had to stop recording…dang!
GUEST: Walter Downing
HOSTED BY: Scott Olson
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