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A Good-Neighbor Policy : Mathews’ Friend Trained Walker Before Sending the Guard Along to Ventura College

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Phil Mathews, men’s basketball coach at Ventura College, knew about the prowess of Tony Walker long before Walker sank a 3-point basket for his team.

Walker played at North High in Riverside under Mike Bartee, who just happens to be Mathews’ best friend.

Mathews, who grew up in Riverside, also knows Walker’s father and Billy, Walker’s brother, who played basketball at Long Beach State.

So after All-Western State Conference Leland “Pookey” Wigington, transferred to Seton Hall after the 1986-87 season, Mathews didn’t need to look far to find a replacement.

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“I’ve known Tony since the eighth grade and always knew he was going to be a good player,” Mathews said. “He had talent and could handle the ball back then.”

Walker honed his ballhandling skills playing for Bartee, who, like Mathews, runs a disciplined program.

“Tony was the glue that held us together,” Bartee said. “He is as close as you can get to having a coach on the floor.

“Tony was the type of kid who did whatever you needed him to do. If it came down to the end and we needed a basket to win, he would get it for us. He is one of the finest players I have ever been around.”

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After high school, Walker wanted to leave the Riverside area. He didn’t have far to look for a college, since Mathews was waiting to recruit Walker.

“I just thought it would be natural for him to go to Ventura and play for Phil,” Bartee said. “Phil’s program is very disciplined and Tony was used to that from high school.”

Last season, Walker ran the offense, while Cedric Ceballos, last year’s WSC most valuable player, and Wally Carter did most of the scoring.

This season, Walker is Ventura’s only returning starter and Mathews is counting on him to help lead the Pirates to another WSC title. Ventura was co-champions last year with Santa Monica and won the state title in 1987.

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“Last year, it was Ceballos’ team, but it’s Tony’s team this season,” Mathews said. “He knows what I want out there and it’s up to him to be our coach on the floor.”

Being the point guard for Mathews’ team means running the fast break. Walker’s quickness and adroit ballhandling skills, combined with his take-charge attitude, are well suited for Ventura’s run-and-gun offense.

“I know when not to run, where last year I was just running all the time,” Walker said. “I’m a lot more patient now in running the offense and he (Mathews) has really helped me a lot with that.”

Walker led the team with 185 assists last year and earned a spot on the All-WSC first team along with Carter and Ceballos.

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With 134 assists after 14 games, a 9.6 average, Walker should easily pass that mark.

Walker, however, will not be remembered as much of a scorer. He averaged 8.3 points a game last season and is doing the same this season.

“He’s an average shooter, but in our program the point guard doesn’t need to score a lot,” Mathews said.

Ventura, with a more balanced scoring attack than last season, is off to its usual fast start.

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The Pirates, 15-3 during preseason play and champions of the Cypress and Ventura tournaments, began defense of their conference title in their WSC opener at Santa Barbara on Wednesday night.

For Walker, another strong season would just about clinch his chances of being signed by a Division I college, Mathews said.

For now, however, Walker is content just to help Ventura defend its conference championship.

“We’re winning because we have a lot of people on this year’s team who can do the job,” he said.

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That includes Walker.


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