After all, according to the stretch forward, there aren’t too many professional female athletes hailing from Alabama.
“Being I have that on my back, I gotta represent,” she said.
And represent she did.
After averaging 19.1 points and 9.4 rebounds as a senior at Alabama, where she also registered 21 career double-doubles and was named a 2021 Katrina McClain Award Finalist, awarded annually to the nation’s top power forward, Walker was drafted seventh overall in the 2021 WNBA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks.
Then, two games into her rookie campaign, she tore her anterior cruciate ligament and her season came to an abrupt halt. It was the same ACL she had torn in high school. And she was devastated.
“It really took me a minute to accept the fact (I was) going through this again,” she said. “I feel like my first ACL tear was rough for me. I was young. I definitely didn’t have the many resources I had when I did it the second time. It wasn’t even close.”
Nevertheless, it took months for her to talk to anyone about it. She’d finally gotten everything she wanted, but then was knocked back 10 steps.
Working hard has never been an issue, though. Especially when opportunities arise.
“Once you get them, you need to be on it,” Walker said. “And I feel that way about AU. I don’t take this as a walk in the park. I’m trying to capitalize on all my opportunities because it’s that serious.”
Two years after her ACL recovery, her mind, body and soul are stronger than ever.
“She has such a mature mindset when it comes to basketball,” said fellow AU athlete Theresa Plaisance. “She’s very focused and driven on her goal, and she’s very much so herself and she doesn’t waiver from that. Jasmine, I know the time she that gets in the gym here, that she puts towards working at her trade.”
Like many of the other first-year participants, Walker saw the inaugural season either online or via social media posts and was immediately intrigued by what appeared to be a mixture of competitive hoops and camaraderie among fun-loving women she obviously had something in common with.
“I seen the incredible things they did as an organization last year, seemed fun with all the players that (were) in it, WNBA players (were) advertising it, it just seemed like something I wanted to be a part of,” Walker said. “It was something new and something to keep athletes in the United States. I felt like it was a good opportunity for me to hop on.”
Walker said she believes there are plenty of other professional women like herself, who would much rather stay in the United State during the WNBA offseason, rather than travel overseas. It’s a feeling that’s been heightened since the Brittney Griner situation in Russia.
“I’m pretty sure that’s at the front of everybody’s mind,” Walker said. “I’ve only experienced Puerto Rico. But I feel like everybody has their own experiences when it comes to overseas. (There are) a lot of us (who) would rather just stay in the States and play in front of family and friends … instead of going out of your environment.”
And three weeks into the season, Walker couldn’t be any more pleased with her decision to join the league.
Since opening the season with back-to-back seven-point performances, Walker has scored in double figures in six of her last seven games, averaging 12.4 points per contest.
“Things have been going good, it’s been going smoothly, I think,” said Walker, who for AU fantasy players, is averaging 223.6 leaderboard points per contest. “Really just getting a feel for everybody and everything, trying to learn what everybody does individually, and then try to bring it together as a team. But I know me personally, I feel like everything is going how it’s supposed to go.
“Everybody’s coming together, everybody’s friendly, everybody wants to know your background, wants to know your story.”
Walker said there have been no “pleasant surprises” to this point because Athletes Unlimited has lived up to her expectations. What’s stood out, however, is getting to know and blending with the many different personalities with nearly everyone in Dallas.
“I feel like you get to get close with everybody here,” Walker said. “Whether you’re a WNBA player or whether you’re not, whether you play overseas, whether you don’t. We all interact with each other. I just feel like AU is definitely the start of something great. I feel like in the future (the season) could probably be something much longer. I really feel like they’re doing an awesome thing. So I really do appreciate them coming up with the idea to get this going. Because, I mean, some of us would rather stay in the States to play.”
Walker said while salary seems to always be a subject matter during the WNBA season, she doesn’t feel playing for Athletes Unlimited has to do with money, as much as it does the concept.
“Because regardless, they take care of you,” she said. “You do receive money, but overall they take care of their athletes, I will give that to AU, they definitely take care of athletes in all aspects. I don’t have to really worry about anything but just make sure I perform like I’m supposed to. I feel like they cover that much for you. I really enjoy getting to know some of these people that I probably wouldn’t even have a chance to if I wasn’t here. Most of the bonds or most of the relationships that I created I probably would have never had the chance without even coming here.”
When it’s come time to compete, Walker has transitioned quickly, both mentally and physically during her time with AU, in order to prepare for the start of training camp with her new WNBA team.
Walker was traded to Connecticut on Jan. 16 as part of a four-player deal, but was later waived by the Sun on Feb. 20.
The Seattle Storm then signed the forward as a free agent on Feb. 24.
Now, if anything, she’s playing with a chip on her shoulder.
After all, adversity has been nothing for her given the two ACL tears.
Last season, when Walker returned to action with the Sparks, she played in 32 games amidst a whirlwind of off-court distractions with the team.
But Walker said despite the mid-season firing of then-coach Derek Fisher, and the abrupt departure of Liz Cambage, she refused to allow herself to get bottled up in things she couldn’t control. Knowing all she could do was focus on improving after a mentally draining rookie season when she said it took months to even talk to anyone, complacency or disappointment wasn’t an option.
“Last year, with the opportunity that Jas had, she took it and she ran with it, and you don’t see that in a lot of young players, who are able to just go with the flow and adjust to the adversity,” said Jordin Canada, who is also playing in Athletes Unlimited and played with Walker in Los Angeles last season. “Being here in AU, I’ve seen such a huge difference from last season to just even being here.
“I think Jas’ confidence has gone up tremendously. She’s shooting the ball with confidence, she’s doing things that didn’t necessarily have the opportunity to do with the Sparks. So, I’m very excited for her in this season, having the opportunity and chance to really show her game and to show the improvements she has made.”
Which is why Walker said she continues to play as if she has something to prove, knowing there is someone who doesn’t know about her talent who is always lurking.
“I’m at a point in my life and the point of my career where I still have to prove to people like I’m still who I’m supposed to be. Regardless of injury, regardless of where I’ve been, regardless of where I’m going, I’m still going to be me and I’m still going to work as hard,” Walker said.
“I belong wherever I step my foot on because I work that hard. People who do know me, who do know my game, know I’m good enough. I’ve worked too hard to get to where I’m at today.”
W.G. Ramirez is a 35-year veteran sports reporter in Southern Nevada, serving as a correspondent for Athletes Unlimited. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez
'I love the experience so far': Jordin Canada settling in to first AU season
© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2023 / Credit: MK Ridgway
Shine, Grind, Hustle: Theresa Plaisance brings infectious vibes to AU Hoops
© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2023 / Credit: Jade Hewitt Media
Caliya Robinson sets eyes on new opportunity with AU Basketball
© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2023 / Credit: Jade Hewitt Media
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