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Sports : Pick and (En)roll : While Danny Walker Decides on a New School, Westchester's Ed Azzam Defends His Coaching Philosophy

June 29, 1995|SEAN WATERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Danny Walker, two-time City Section 4-A Division all-star, considers summer basketball a class not worth repeating at Westchester High.

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Asked to play for the Comets' summer team, Walker turned down Westchester Coach Ed Azzam's request and began shopping his talents to other City Section schools.

Walker, a 6-foot shooting guard, is one of three players expected to transfer from a school that lost to Crenshaw in the City 4-A semifinals, 73-59, in February. Comet point guard Jason Hart is playing for Inglewood. Tyreese Basey, a 6-2 forward, is expected to play for Washington.

"I have been with the program for three years," said Walker, who began playing varsity as a freshman. "He's still teaching me his program. I know everything."

"I have nothing against Coach. I just didn't like the way he played me or the way I played at Westchester."

Said Azzam: "If he already knows everything [about playing basketball] then he can skip high school. I guess this is one of the reasons these players are leaving. They know everything."

Azzam defended his philosophy: "We teach the kids how to play the game. It has to be constantly reinforced. If they are done learning, then they need to go somewhere else."

Azzam said an adviser with ties to Westchester influenced Walker's decision, but would not mention his name.

"Danny is a smart kid," said Azzam, noting the 3.5 grade-point average of Walker. "For him to say that he wasn't used properly, that's not Danny talking. That's someone else."

Walker said he wanted to leave Westchester after his freshman season.

"I thought about transferring every year, but I was afraid to make the transition to another school," Walker said. "But I always come back thinking things will be better at Westchester. This time, I'm serious. I don't think we can ever win a championship at Westchester."

Walker would not be the first basketball star to leave Westchester.

Several former Comets finished their high school basketball careers at Crenshaw, the three-time defending City 4-A champions. That list includes Tremaine Fowlkes, Rico Laurie, Maurice Robinson and Ronnie Arch. Walker said he considered playing for Crenshaw.

"I considered it for a minute," Walker said. "But the fact that Crenshaw doesn't play in summer league games or in summer tournaments scared me off. If I didn't like it there, I would be in trouble."

Walker discussed his problems with close friend Dony Wilcher, an All-City guard at Fremont. Wilcher invited Walker to play for Air Max, a team of Fremont players coached by former Pathfinder assistant Keith Young. Walker and Wilcher played together June 21 against Dorsey.

On Tuesday, Walker scored 17 points to lead Fremont to a 64-45 win over Centennial in the Artesia Shootout.

Fremont Coach Sam Sullivan was excited about the prospects of having Walker in his backcourt, but said he wanted the senior to first settle his differences with Azzam.

"I won't do anything to help Walker transfer until I talk with Azzam," Sullivan said. "[Azzam] has been around as long as I have and I have a lot of respect for him. I know the kid had a big disagreement with his head coach and there is a lot of pride involved."

Walker said he didn't have a disagreement with Azzam.

"He wanted me to sign some documents stating that I would return to Westchester," Walker said. "I was already enrolled in the school and playing for the team. That was enough. What was a document going to prove?"

Said Azzam: "The document was a commitment form. It was an opportunity for all the kids to make a commitment to play for the team."

After his sophomore season, Walker gained notoriety when he was selected The Times' 1994 Westside boys' basketball Player of the Year. He became one of the most watched underclassmen in California and was invited to national basketball camps and selected to play for the most prestigious summer league teams.

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Last season, however, was a big disappointment for Walker and Westchester, which was the preseason pick to win the City 4-A title. Several Comets bitterly complained that some of the team's stars were more concerned about personal statistics than team success.

Walker, who averaged 17.6 points a game, struggled to score in big games. He had 14 points against Crenshaw, but missed all 10 of his three-point attempts.

Walker was unhappy with his game and the way Westchester ran its offense.

"Offensively, we were allowed to take two dribbles and that's it," he said. "We set up a lot of screens. I didn't understand why we had all these restrictions. Why didn't he just let us play?"

Said Azzam: "It would have been easy to run play after play to make sure that Danny scores his 30 points, but I'm not interested in individual statistics."

Walker countered: "We had a lot of players on the squad who could score. I didn't need to score 20 or 30 points every night."

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