Mo Acker, Will Walker and Jerome Randle talk about what lies ahead.
by Quinn Peterson
A few years ago, as they prepared to wrap up high school ball in Chicago, Maurice Acker (Marquette), Will Walker (DePaul), and Jerome Randle (Cal) were among the city’s most highly regarded guards. All of them would embark on college careers that would take each of them on their own distinct paths. Although none would lead their respective teams to deep into the post-season as they were able to do in high school, all would continue to embellish their already successful careers.
Recently, I got a chance to catch up with all of them as they reflected back on their time in school and looked forward to the future:
SLAM: Looking back, how would you describe your college experience?
Maurice Acker: It was a good experience, you know. It was an up and down career, but I believe the decisions I made made me into a better person, a better player. Coach Buck [Tim Buckley] taught me a lot, Coach Crean taught me a lot once I got to Marquette, and Coach Buzz he was more of a defensive minded coach and just let us play a lot more. It was great playing for every coach I had in my college career, it was great playing with all the teammates I played with.
Will Walker: It was up and down, I learned a lot. It helped me as a player and a person, just getting through the tough times, and learning how to play that much harder and get more playing time. We started off as a team on the upside, but I wasn’t playing as much, but I finally started getting more playing time. It helped me a lot and it made me stronger.
Jerome Randle: Just learning. Every year that I played I feel like I’ve learned, whether it was trying to be a good player, trying to be a good leader, trying to make everybody better. And I’m still learning now just working out trying to get to the next level. There’s always something that you can learn about the game.
SLAM: Did it go as you expected?
MA: No, I wouldn’t say so. I was recruited real low coming out of high school. I was one of the top guards in the state, but a lot of coaches at the Division I level didn’t want to take a risk [on me] at my size. I thought that I would either go to a low-major or a mid-major school and finish my career out there. But I ended up being the [MAC] Freshman of the Year at Ball State, and that kind of helped open up some eyes, like, OK yeah, he can play at a high level. So I was able to get an opportunity to go to Marquette and play.
But at the same time, when I got to Marquette my first year, I was just more of a role player, you know, which was cool. I was playing behind an All-American, Dominic James, so I couldn’t really do anything about that. You know how that goes. But my last two years, especially my senior year, it was probably the best years of my college career, being able to play my game.
WW: No, I don’t think so, but it got better along the way. I learned how to work harder, take people’s positions, take people’s spots, and not settle for sitting on the bench and just playing here and there. I went from barely playing to leading the Big East in minutes this past year. It was just about learning how to really work hard to take what I wanted.
JR: I expected to get a little further in the NCAA Tournament, but I’m really happy with the way it ended. It made me grow up fast. The coaches that recruited me, they left, and I was really upset about that you know, but I had to just grow up and learn a lot of things on my own.
SLAM: How was it being somebody who teams keyed in on night in, night out?
WW: It was tough, but I was expecting it because I finished the season strong as a junior so I figured teams would be keying in more. It just made me get in that much better shape to be able to keep moving. I had to go that much harder in pre-season, and that much harder in practice during the season to keep up my stamina for the game. It took a toll on my body, but I had to keep going to that training room everyday, and keep taking care of my body.
JR: It was definitely hard, but like I said before, it was a learning experience for me. I had to find other ways to be happy playing, other ways to win other than just scoring myself. I had to get my teammates involved and win like that.
SLAM: What would you say your biggest regret or disappointment is? On the flipside, what’s your biggest accomplishment or the thing you’re most proud of?
MA: I don’t have any regrets really. I was definitely disappointed at the loss this year to Washington in the NCAA [Tournament]. I felt as though we were supposed to win that game. I think we could have really made a run in the Tournament. I’m still mad at that. We were supposed to win that game and just keep on playing.
What I’m proud of is being able to overcome adversity. Being a small guard — and Jerome Randle could probably speak on this as well — you don’t get a lot of respect. You gotta go to practice everyday with an edge on your shoulder, go to games everyday with an edge on your shoulder. Not backing down, looking to prove everybody wrong each time I step on the court. I’m just proud that I was able to do that and turn some people’s heads.
WW: My regret would probably be not pushing coach into playing me more at the 1. I kind of just went along with playing the 2, and now it’s hurting me because now the GM’s are saying they want to see me play the 1 more. Everybody wants to see me play the 1 now because I’ve been playing the 2 the last two years in college. So now it’s like I gotta start back and show them all over again when I could have been showing during the season. That kind of hurt my NBA looks.
[I'm most proud of] going from the bench and being angry to having billboards around Chicago and being the person that led the Big East in minutes played. I didn’t know if it was going to happen early in my career. I started getting down on myself, but to be able to have that happen, now I can tell the younger guys, I was sitting on that bench the same way somebody else is. But I worked hard enough to be able to do what I did and have some these things happen my last few years.
JR: I don’t regret anything. I don’t regret anything that I’ve done.
My biggest accomplishment is just knowing that, when you see all these teams out here, they’re stacked with NBA players. They’ve got all these guys going to the NBA, but my team, we were never stacked with a bunch of NBA players. We worked with what we had. I’m happy by the way we handled adversity and got through the year, and proved a lot of people wrong. They definitely didn’t think we would finish at the top of the league my junior year, and they definitely didn’t expect us to win this year. So handling that, and going out and proving everyone wrong, I think that was great.
SLAM: You won Pac-10 Player of the Year, All-Pac-10 Team a couple times. Led the conference in several categories, all-time scoring leader school history at Cal. Do you feel you were slept on and flew under the radar a little bit?
JR: People still sleeping on me. The whole Pac-10 POY, 1st Team, it means nothing at this point. All everybody did is just downplay it. I still have to continue to prove myself to get to the next level. The only thing I hear is, He’s too little, he can’t do this, he can’t do that. I’ve heard that my whole life, and yet, I don’t let it bother me. I just keep pushing because I know, it’s something that I can’t control. All I can do is continue to be the best player Jerome Randle can be. I’m happy about winning Pac-10 POY, but it’s almost like it’s unseen, its unnoticeable. All that that was said was that the conference was weak.
SLAM: How have you seen yourself grow on and off the court during your career?
MA: When I enrolled at Ball State my freshman year, I was just thinking I gotta get it done on the court, you know, basketball is everything. I was young-minded. I thought school was for nerds. Going to Marquette was probably the best thing for me. You gotta be on top of your academics, you gotta be doing the right things. They don’t want any trouble going on, they just want you to be able to produce on the court, and take care of business off the court. It’s a major program so anything you do can get out to the public. Just becoming a man was one of the biggest things they taught me, Coach Buckley, Coach Crean, and Coach Buzz. I became a better person, not just worried about basketball, but doing the right things in life.
WW: On the court, playing both the 1 and the 2 helped me to be a better all-around player. A lot of people just key in on one position and do that good, but starting off at the 1 and then moving to the 2 will help me at the next level — wherever I play at — so I can be able to score while playing the 1, and also be able to be able to distribute the ball and be a real solid point guard.
Off the court, we did a lot of charity things in the community. That really opened up my eyes more, going up to The Children’s Hospital, and seeing those sick kids that can’t do anything about it. It really showed me how much I have, and made me appreciate the things that I have instead of thinking about what I didn’t have.
JR: On the court, I would definitely say just being more of a student of the game.
Off the court, just making better decisions. I think everyone makes some decision off the court that probably could have cost you your career, you know, just being young, knuckle-head, doing things you know you shouldn’t be doing, but you did ‘em anyway. As you get older, you put away a lot of childish things and I feel like I’ve done that.
SLAM: How did playing high school ball in Chicago prepare you for the next level?
MA: It prepared me a lot. Chicago is one of the top cities, known for competition, you know. Great guards coming out of Chicago. It’s not like you can just go to a game and just drop 46 points. Players in Chicago are real hungry. You got guys coming at your head every game. They don’t respect people cause they’re the top point guard or top player in the state. They look at that as a challenge. Having that competitive edge got me through a lot in practice, games, the classroom. It helped me a lot.
WW: I think it’s the best basketball that you can find around the United States, so I think it prepped me just the right way. When you go around and play some of the better teams, usually there’s a guy from Chicago on that team. Playing the better guys coming up gives you that confidence, like, These guys really can’t hang with me. I’ve been playing against the best competition for so long, it kind of has you used to it. When you come to college you’ve pretty much seen it all.
JR: Chicago high school ball is tough man. People that play in Chicago have a different kind of spurt to they’re game. Everybody is trying to prove they self to the world, you know. The level of competition is higher than people would expect. I feel like it’s prepared me for any type of basketball that’s thrown at me.
SLAM: Being so highly touted in Chicago coming out of high school, was there extra pressure from the city to perform in college?
MA: Oh yeah, most definitely. I wouldn’t say it’s pressure, it more of an honor. Like, Man, I’m one of the top guards [from Chicago], I gotta go out here and represent.
WW: Yeah, I think so. Especially staying in the city, that also made [it harder], because I was seeing people that knew me all the time, and I had to always go through those questions like, Man, why you not playing? Or, Why is coach doing that to you? Why you not playing like you did in high school? So that always added more pressure. But in that been the case since high school, especially being in Chicago, a place where people are always gonna say something about you. So I was kind of used to it, but I used it as motivation. It helped me push myself sometimes.
JR: It wasn’t no pressure. I feel like there’s not a lot of pressure in anything, you know. What’s life without pressure? Just growing up on the South Side of Chicago is more pressure in itself. So basketball, I don’t consider that as being pressure. You just gotta go out there and continue to play how you’ve been playing you’re whole life. I think a lot of people put too much on themselves. Just be you. Don’t worry about what somebody thinks about the way you’re playing. Because that’s gonna cause a lot of problems in you, and really just interrupt what you’ve been doing you’re whole life. So I never felt like there was a lot of pressure, I just wanted people to give me a chance.
SLAM: What’s next for Maurice Acker, and how are you getting ready for it?
MA: I’m just working out trying to stay ready. I might have some NBA workouts, and hopefully get picked up on a summer league team so I can showcase my talent. If that doesn’t work out, I’ma go overseas.
SLAM: What’s Next For Will Walker, and how are you getting ready for it?
WW: I just got back from working out in New York. My agency is based out of New York, so I’ll be going back out there to New Jersey in a couple weeks to train. I’m entering the Draft, I got some NBA workouts set up next month, and I gotta just show that I can play the 1. My goal right now is to get on somebody’s summer league [team] and take it from there. If I can sign on somebody’s team I would love that, but I could always fall back and play overseas so that’s a great option for me. I’m just happy to be where I’m at now, and I thank God everyday that I’m in the position that I am. I just hope that I can stay healthy enough to be able to keep playing ball for money cause that’s my dream job.
SLAM: What’s next for Jerome Randle, and what are you doing to get ready for it?
JR: I never looked at myself as going overseas. Never once, I’ve never though about it. And I never want people to mention that about me, because I feel like I don’t deserve to be over there. I feel like I’m a better player, I feel like I deserve to be in the League. Every time people doubt me, I feel like I do something to open more eyes. He did this, but he’s too short. He’s not strong enough, he can’t do this, he can’t do that. I win MVP at Portsmouth. That’s great, but still he’s too short. I’m doing all the things everyone is doing to get into the League, but when it comes down Jerome Randle, it’s a big problem.
So, I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I know where I deserve to be, and I’ll try to work over these next two months to try to get to where I feel like I should be. I really have a chip on my shoulder towards a lot of people. I like challenges.
I can’t get any taller, but I’m getting a lot stronger, working out with Tim Grover in Chicago. He’s teaching me a lot. A whole lot. I feel like I have a lot of people pulling for me, and a lot of teams are interested, but you just don’t know what they’re looking for. I’m just trying to be a smarter player to open eyes. I know I have one more hump to get over and that’s the personal workouts.