June 15, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
Former South Carolina point guard Ieasia Walker (2009-2013) is seeing the game from a new perspective. The 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and three-time All-SEC honoree has traded in her high tops and jersey for a referee's whistle and stripes.
“I’m loving that I can apply the work ethic that I’ve had and see the results,” Walker said of her new career. “I’ve received a lot of feedback from evaluators on what I need to work on and what I’m doing well. It’s really starting to grow on me. It’s another way to still be part of the game even though I’m not playing anymore.”
Walker had a quiet demeanor as a player, but she excelled on both ends of the floor. Although she may be best remembered for her defensive play, like any true point guard, she was skilled in setting up teammates to score while also providing offensive punch when her number was called. She finished her college career as just one of three Gamecocks to amass 1,000 career points, 250 career assists, and 250 career steals.
“The transition was tough at first, but now it’s starting to connect,” Walker said. “I hear a lot of things that revert back to what I learned [at South Carolina]. It’s all starting to come together.”
Now living in her native Long Island, New York, Walker started her journey as a basketball official a year ago as she sought out a new career and ways to supplement her income after returning from playing professional basketball overseas. South Carolina associate head coach Lisa Boyer introduced the idea of officiating to her, and Walker decided to give it a try. She has spent the last year working high school, middle school, and AAU games for boys and girls in New York and New Jersey.
“I came across a program that the NBA is doing where they train people with minimal experience in officiating,” Walker said. “So I decided to see where it would take me.”
When I’m working as a referee, I’m still watching the game as a point guard.
Walker has been a quick study. She was invited to work camps where officials are evaluated to move up to higher levels, and she has been given the opportunity to work games for a pair of NCAA Division III conferences next season. Walker noted that her experience as a point guard has helped in her success.
“As a point guard, you have to see how the defense is playing and run your offense,” Walker said. “When I’m working as a referee, I’m still watching the game as a point guard to see what common themes a team is using, such as pick and rolls, or seeing if they’re running a flex offense or a lot of motion, and that helps me with my coverage to where I am on the floor. It helps me see which players are going to be more aggressive so I can be sure that they’re not doing anything unsportsmanlike that would disrupt the game.”
She has discovered that many of the skills she learned to become a good basketball player at South Carolina have carried over into her new role on the court.
“A lot of things from being a player in college have helped me in officiating, including watching film,” Walker said. “Coach [Dawn] Staley always told us to do our work early when preparing. Having a scouting report and all of that other stuff really translates now to being prepared for a game I’m going to officiate. I’ve spoken to some WNBA officials, and they really do their homework. I used to think that officials just showed up, and that was it.
“I was told by some of the assigners at the camps that I am very patient in letting the plays develop. I think that comes from playing. It helps me slow down, let things happen, and then react. You don’t want to jump the gun and the blow the whistle early.”
Walker now watches basketball games differently and has earned a new respect for the work basketball officials have to put in to be successful.
“I think back to when I played, and how I probably didn’t even notice the officials in terms of their coverage and what they’re supposed to be looking at,” Walker said. “I didn’t know all the rules back then. I just knew when I got fouled or the other team got fouled. Now I know more about how it all works in a game.”
Having been a point guard for Staley, Walker is accustomed to being in a demanding position and had to be able handle criticism, without taking it personally, in order to learn to be a better player. As an official, she also has to have a thick skin as fans, coaches and players aren’t always going to agree when she blows the whistle.
“AAU season can get crazy,” Walker laughed. “Parents can get a little wild. They will yell at every single thing. I think I do a good job of tuning out what doesn’t need to be heard so I can still do my job effectively. As far as dealing with coaches or players that may be a little irate, you just have to administer the rules. You have to be able to communicate. I’m a very laid back person. The key is to be in control and don’t be timid early in a game, or else they’re going to come at you with everything.”
As Walker continues her path, she hopes to work her way up to officiating Division I and professional games.
“I’d ‘T-up’ Coach Staley immediately,” Walker joked. “I’m just kidding. I don’t think they’d let me work a South Carolina game because it would probably be a conflict of interest. When I saw her recently in Virginia, she just told me to use my knowledge from playing in officiating because a lot of officials may not have played at a high level.”
She still has to stay in shape to get up and down the floor, and even though she isn’t playing, basketball is still fun for Walker.
“It’s not as stressful or as physically demanding as playing, and I kind of have the best seat on the floor,” Walker said. “I want to go as far as I can.”
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