HOLDEN – Walker High’s played in its share of prestigious statewide tournaments, but senior guard Jalen Cook said there’s always been a soft spot in his heart for the Livingston Parish Tournament.
Given the team’s recent level of success, that’s easy to understand why.
“The parish tournament’s always a good thing for me,” Cook said. “Around this parish you’ve watched people grow up that you played in middle school level and onto high school. It’s good that everyone comes out to watch the games, to watch their teams play. We all support each other. It’s always fun.”
Cook made certain top-seeded Walker got off on the right foot in its pursuit of a fifth straight parish title. The LSU signee helped the Wildcats overcome a slow start by getting their offensive into overdrive in the second and third quarters for a 72-38 victory Thursday over eighth-seeded Albany at Holden High School.
Walker (3-2) advanced to meet fourth-seeded and District 4-5A foe Live Oak at 7:30 p.m. in Friday’s quarterfinal round.
“We started off slow but once we got into the flow of things and got into a rhythm and our defense making our offense, we started getting steals and transition points,” said Cook, who scored 22 of his game-high 24 points after the first quarter. “We were playing at our pace, getting layups and driving and kicking it out.”
Freshman Warren Young Jr. added 17 points for Walker which featured 11 different players getting into the scoring column. The Wildcats also shot 50% (24 of 48), including 54% (12 of 22) in the first half.
Albany (4-5) held firm early, forcing Walker into seven turnovers, and riding a pair of 3-pointers from Caleb Puma to eventually take a 10-9 lead on Trey Yelverton’s two free throws with 1:02 showing.
Kedric Brown’s offensive follow on the third attempt at the goal supplied Walker with the lead for good (13-10) at the end of the quarter on Cook’s first basket – a buzzer-beating reverse layup.
“We had a lead and you wish you could just capture that moment,” Albany coach Chris Carter. “Walker’s one of the best teams in the state for a reason. They’re well coached, they’re disciplined, and they don’t take a lot of bad shots. Coach (Anthony) Schiro will probably say they could have played a lot of better and shot the ball better.”
Schiro credited Albany’s early pressure and a lack of energy on the part of his team which started Cook, three freshmen and a sophomore.
“I thought Albany did a good job, they came in with a game plan and slowed us down,” he said. “I didn’t think we came out with a lot of energy in the first quarter. A lot of those young guys have to learn to bring it every night and I don’t feel like we did that.”
Albany closed to within a point (13-12) on a put back from Sidney Benion, when Cook ignited a 9-0 run for Walker with a reverse layup and took a pass from Brian Thomas and knocked down a 3-pointer.
It was the first action of the season for Thomas, who had been slowed by a football-related injury. He played 12 minutes and scored six points.
Keondre Brown, who returned to play basketball this season, also entered the game with Thomas and added a pair of free throws and Young took a pass from Thomas and made it 22-12 at the 3:41 mark.
“They’re veterans players that have been on that stage before and know how to play,” Cook said of Thomas and Brown.
Jeremiah Dougherty’s free throw stopped the run, but Albany encountered difficulty against Walker’s pressure defense and wound up with 12 of its 23 turnovers in the first half.
The Hornets compounded their problems by making 1-of-17 shots in the second quarter, missing their last 15 attempts of the quarter and trailed 33-16 at halftime.
“We stopped scoring and they had a four-to-five-minute run where they got up 17 on us by halftime and that was the game,” said Carter, who was led by Puma’s 12 points and Yelverton’s 10. “They’re too good of a defensive unit to give it back Those guys hustle and play hard.”
They also have a flair for the dramatic.
Walker was building plenty of momentum in the final minute of play before halftime when Cook perfectly led Donald Butler with a pass off the backboard for a slam dunk for a 33-14 advantage.
Cook opened the third quarter with eight consecutive points and Young knocked down the first of his two 3-pointers in under a minute to finish a 11-0 run to begin the third quarter and resulted in a 41-16 cushion.
Albany finally picked up its first field goal in nearly 10 minutes – a stretch of 18 consecutive missed shots – when Dougherty scored on an offensive rebound at the 4:45 mark.
Young added his third 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter and Cook added four straight points for a 66-35 lead with 3:36 left and marked the end of the game for Walker’s starters.
“I like our team,” Cook said. “We have a lot of depth, a lot of athletes that can turn defense into offense. That’s what we harp on. A lot of players that can play hard and we need to everybody scoring. Just play as a family like we did when we won the state championship.”