The Enforcer in the Middle

By Dan Hiner

Forward Latisha Walker (34) prepares to engage Pittsburgh center Cora McManus during YSU’s Dec. 21 game at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh. Walker finished the game with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Photo courtesy of Ron Stevens.

Any good basketball team needs an enforcer, that intimidating player in the middle of the defense to prevent the opposing offense from getting easy, uncontested baskets. For the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team, that enforcer is Latisha Walker.

The senior forward, who goes by the nickname Tish, began her collegiate career at Xavier University in Cincinnati. Kevin McGuff, head coach at Xavier, was replaced after the 2010-2011 season by Amy Waugh. Under Waugh, Walker saw her playing time decrease and decided to transfer to YSU.

“Well I wasn’t playing. Me and the coach really didn’t get along,” Walker said. “I thought, well, I like the school, but I came here for two reasons: to get an education and to play basketball. So after my first head coach left after my sophomore year, I decided to transfer to YSU.”

Walker sat out the 2012-2013 season, her first season with the Penguins, due to NCAA transfer rules. She played in 31 games for the Penguins last season, including 22 starts.

“It just made me want to get out there even more because I had to sit out—basically I sat out for two years,” Walker said.

Walker has protected the rim since coming to YSU. She blocked 35 shots last season, the eighth-most in a single season in Penguins history. This season she’s picking up where she left off. In the 15 games this season, Walker has recorded 24 blocks, including a career-high six blocks against Radford University. Walker’s 24 blocks lead the team by a substantial margin. No one else on the team has more than six blocks this season. Her 1.6 blocks per game is currently fourth in the Horizon League.

“I love playing defense. I’d love to block a shot than score,” Walker said. “That’s just me; I’ve always been a defensive player. So I have to be not only a defensive player, but also an offensive player and score so that made me an all-around basketball player.”

The team relies on Walker’s ability in defense. Her presence in the middle of the defense has made a positive impact on the overall play of the team. The Penguins rank second in the Horizon League in field-goal defense percentage and second in scoring defense.

“She’s there for us when we get beat off the dribble and she blocks a shot,” senior Heidi Schlegel said. “Her presence there is just awesome because she is really big and she’s strong and long. So her presence on defense is really a key to our game.”

Walker has naturally progressed since seeing more playing time at YSU. While at Xavier, Walker only scored eight points and grabbed 11 rebounds in two seasons. Last season Walker only averaged 7.1 points and six rebounds per game. She’s improved her offensive play this season, averaging 11.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

“I think over the last three years she’s been here she has gotten stronger, faster and mentally tougher and I think that has been key to her success this year,” Schlegel said. “She has been playing a lot harder and playing smarter. It has been awesome — it’s been a key factor to our team winning this year.”