Walker sticks by Rick

May 22, 1997

Despite the word that drifted heavily out of Kentucky, Antoine Walker is happy to have Rick Pitino as his coach again. What Walker wants those on the outside to understand is that there is a family thing going on here.

And families aren't afraid to be emotional. After displaying some dunks yesterday on the new court and hoops put up by the Sprite NBA Backboard Program outside the Boys and Girls Club in Roxbury, Walker wanted to explain what others may have misconstrued.

"We both love to win. We're both competitors," said Walker, who went from being Pitino's best Wildcat two years ago to his best Celtic now.

"That other stuff is just people giving their opinions. But they don't know.

"Me and coach Pitino had a good relationship. At school, he was a father figure to me. He brought a lot of discipline to me. He made me aware of a lot of things on and off the court.

"The way I just put it is that he was my college coach and now I'm playing for a different coach, so you have to adjust to that."

The setting is different, but this is still basketball. And in that regard, Walker knows where his bread is buttered.

He is coming off a strong rookie season and showed the type of skills that, if developed further, could make him an NBA All-Star game mainstay.

And for much of this, he credits his new-old coach.

"I really enjoyed playing for coach Pitino," Walker said as he signed autographs for the event's participants. "He got my game to where it is now. I have to admit that. I never would deny that.

"I think they made an excellent choice for coach. He's got experience on all the levels and he had success with the Knicks. I think guys will be able to see right away that he knows what he's doing and he can make us better.

"He basically gets to take over from scratch and bring in the players he wants."

Walker, meanwhile, would seem to have a leg up on what will be happening with the Celts come training camp. He is still playing some ball, but he said yesterday he hasn't yet turned up the heat on his offseason program. After playing the longest season of his life, he's letting his body recover a bit. Soon he will start to beat on himself again.

"I know what to expect from coach Pitino, but I don't think I'm in that much better a position than other people," Walker said. "I still have to work hard and prove to him what I can do at this level. I do feel like I understand him a little bit. I know what he wants and what he expects.

"I'm excited. It's a good situation for myself and for the whole team. Coach P is going to bring a new style to the team - lots of running and pressing. That's something the Celtics are not used to, but it's going to be good for everybody."

Walker knows that the Celtics of previous eras were well versed in the running game. He also knows it would have been easier for the club to reinstitute the style if they were awarded the first draft pick (i.e., Tim Duncan) in last Sunday's lottery.

"I was on my way up here on the plane when the lottery was on, but I heard about it as soon as I got off the plane," he said. "It's definitely a disappointment because everyone was expecting to have the No. 1 pick. But now we've just got to re-evaluate and look even harder at our strengths and weaknesses and do what we have to do."

Walker knows as well as anyone that the Celts have already gotten major help on the bench with Pitino.

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