In a lot of ways, Romello Walker is your garden-variety talented freshman making the transition to Division I level basketball.
He’s played a successful debut season, finishing third on the team in scoring by averaging 8.2 points per game in the regular season and a heightened 10.3 mark in conference play. He crashes the glass, forces turnovers, commits his own, takes ridiculous shots — some of which go in with a swish and some of which don’t even approach the backboard at all — fouls abundantly, but also gets to the line.
Basically, he does everything. It made sense when the 6-foot-6 forward out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida didn’t have an immediate answer when asked to describe his role on the team. He’s too versatile, too athletic to just play a specified role or be contained to one area.
“He’s had, to me, the typical freshman year of the guy who’s going to be a really good player,” Binghamton head coach Tommy Dempsey said. “There’ve been a lot of ups and downs. He’s had nights where he’s looked like an all-league player, and he’s had nights where you feel like you have to get him out of there.”
“I’ve coached a lot of freshmen over the years that turned into really good players, and I think that he strikes me as a guy that, going through this experience like he has and being able to play so much because of the situation that he walked into, it’s really benefited him,” Dempsey concluded, referring, of course, to the decimated roster leaving ample room for freshmen to play serious minutes.
So, typical. Talented but raw, energetic but hasty. Walker has recorded a freshman season like a tick on the wall to measure how tall he’ll grow, how much he’ll improve.
Yet in a lot of other ways, he’s absolutely atypical.
His favorite part of the game?
“I like talking trash,” he said after a brief pause. “I think that’s my favorite part of the game, is making it competitive. I love talking trash to try and get in somebody’s head. That kind of hypes me up.”
Perhaps a fitting answer for a theater major, but Walker’s immediate answer to what he needs to improve on for the future was even more unique.
“I can’t sing,” he said. “I try a lot, but I can’t sing. If I want to trash talk, I can probably sing something to them.”
Frame those responses in Walker’s resolution for this team — aside, of course, from the typical answers of getting better every day, playing hard and winning games — and it makes sense.
“I just try to keep everybody happy and having fun,” Walker said. “I don’t really like frowns — I’m not a fan of frowns — so I just try to keep everybody happy. Try to make a joke at a rough time. Probably not a good joke.”
Clearly, Walker’s staple this season has been his energy. He’s been a fount of it. He’s one of those guys who has occasionally flown out of nowhere to swat a shot away and who drops in from the wing to slam in a jam. He’s also one of those guys who seems to actually enjoy throwing his body around the court, whose long limbs flail all over the place whether he’s defending, running up and down the court or taking a shot.
Sometimes it’s too much — sometimes he operates far too quickly, resulting in passes hurled to players who aren’t ready, simply aren’t where the ball was thrown and maybe at the unsuspecting ref.
But that was part of the early season, in which Walker was just one of five players making those rookie mistakes. Walker just did it — like everything else — in more dramatic fashion.
“He’s got a lot of confidence,” Dempsey said. “I think the thing where Mello’s grown, his shot selection has gotten a lot better, his turnovers have gotten better, his lapses on defense have all gotten better.”
Walker took the charge on that improvement. From speaking with his coaches, he was able to spectate his play from outside and isolate some problem areas for him to work on:
“Just slowing down and trying to play smarter and try to make the right decisions, and just trying to get smarter at playing basketball,” he explained.
Behind Walker’s own improvements and the team’s correlative strides, Binghamton’s ready to take on Stony Brook on Wednesday. They won’t enter the quarterfinal with as much confidence as they did last year — the few veterans and Dempsey will make sure of that — but their belief is there.
“I’m kind of confident that we can do it,” Walker said. “I believe that if everybody’s on full gears and everybody’s clicking, we can get this win.”