Walker Focuses on Building Bonds as Training Camp Tips Off
BOSTON – Kemba Walker tipped off his ninth NBA training camp Tuesday morning, though, for the veteran point guard, this Day 1 felt different from the others. For the first time in recent memory, Walker felt the flutter of butterfly wings in his stomach, as he joined his new Boston Celtics teammates at the Auerbach Center for the beginning of the 2019-20 campaign.
Walker’s nervousness wasn’t a negative sensation, nor did it last long; it was simply a sign of excitement for the start of something fresh in his life.
“It's just new,” the three-time All-Star described following the team’s first official practice Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a new situation, a new team, a new city. I’m just trying to find my way with it all. I want guys to get used to me and stuff like that. So maybe I was a little bit nervous at first, but once we started to get going, I was all right.”
Coach Brad Stevens isn’t worried about integrating Walker into Boston’s system. Sure, there will be a feeling-out period, but the coach believes that Walker’s intelligence and easy-going personality should allow him to acclimate to the Celtics’ culture and style of play in no time at all.
“It’s just getting used to everybody around, how we operate, and the structure of schedule in practice, what we do in film,” Stevens explained. “There’s all these little things that are a little bit different everywhere you go. But the basketball stuff he picks up really quick. He’s obviously very smart, but he’s also played forever, and he’s played for a bunch of good coaches, so he’s ready to roll.”
Walker believes that building a solid relationship with his new head coach will be one of the more important aspects of his transition. That’s why the 29-year-old began forging a bond with Stevens back in July when he signed with the team
“That’s really important to me,” Walker said of that player-coach connection. “I’ve always felt that, as a point guard, I should have a good relationship with my head coach. Me and Brad, we’ve been talking a lot and we’ll continue to grow with one another. That stuff just takes time, it takes a lot of time. So, I’m looking forward to the growth between me and him.”
As for growth between Walker and his teammates, that process has already begun as well. Being one of the more approachable players in the NBA has allowed Walker to form many friendships over the years, including a handful of Celtics connections. The next step in building trust among those friends is by forming an on-court bond, which will be a point of emphasis over the next few weeks.
“We all know each other in some way from over the years,” Walker said. “They know I'm not a wild guy or anything. If I do have something to say, I'm going to say it. But it'll get there – the chemistry will get there, especially as the days go by.”
Fortunately, many of the Celtics’ core players have already had the opportunity to play with Walker in some capacity. This past summer, he suited up alongside fellow Team USA members Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum at the FIBA World Cup in China, and he has also shared some on-court experiences with Gordon Hayward, such as 2017 All-Star Weekend.
“As far as me being with Smart, and JB and JT, I think it definitely helped,” Walker said. “Those are the core guys on the team, and I've known Gordon for a long time as well, so I have a relationship there.
“But the guys are cool. We have some high-character guys – guys who work hard and who have respect for one another.”
As a high-character, hard-working person himself, Walker should have no problem earning the respect of his new teammates and coaches. He’ll likely get through that process as quickly as those first-day butterflies left his system.