Shatori Walker-Kimbrough averaged 13.5 points from Maryland's backcourt last year, leaving her in a virtual tie with guards Laurin Mincy and Lexie Brown as the Terps' average scoring leader. This season, Mincy has graduated and Brown has transferred to Duke, leaving Walker-Kimbrough as the the most experienced scorer on Brenda Frese's team.
Last year, Walker-Kimbrough got better as the season went on. She averaged a team-best 15 points in conference play as Maryland went undefeated through a Big Ten schedule and scored 24 points in a Sweet 16 win over Duke.
At the team's media day on Oct. 20, I talked with Walker-Kimbrough about the upcoming season and about how she's gotten to where she is now: a multi-sport star in high school playing a leading role for a top-ranked program. Our conversation is lightly edited for clarity:
Testudo Times: In the backcourt, you lost Lexie and Laurin, which can't be easy. But it still seems like, with yourself and a couple of others, you have a pretty deep roster back there. Do you feel like you're positioned to handle that?
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough: Yeah, definitely. We have two senior point guards in Brene Moseley and Chloe Pavlech, so I'm extremely confident in those two. They're seniors, they've been in the program, they know the system, they have great relationship with Coach B, so I couldn't be more confident in either one of them.
TT: Your coach said earlier something like, "There's been a lot of change, but I like change" and trying new things. In what ways can change be a good thing for this team, and in what ways do you think it can be a challenge?
Walker-Kimbrough: Change is always going to come. I know one thing Coach preaches is being able to make the uncomfortable comfortable, and change is never comfortable for anybody. I wouldn't say we thought [Brown's transfer] was going to happen, but we were able to stay focused and stay within our family to continue to work hard.
TT: With Kiah Gillespie coming from Connecticut, that's sort of a big story there because of the program there and Connecticut pretty much getting what it wants, usually. What does it say about your program, at this point, that you can go and get one of the top-rated recruits from Connecticut and have that person not go to UConn and have it not be that big a deal?
Walker-Kimbrough: Oh, yeah. I think it goes to show – it speaks on our program. I think we've been under the radar for my first two years. I don't think people started looking at our program until we got the back-to-back Final Fours, even though Coach B has won a national championship. So I think this program's starting to get the respect that it's worked for.
TT: I wasn't even thinking about this, but you're from Aliquippa, right outside Pittsburgh. Aliquippa's had a lot of great athletes (Mike Ditka, Darrelle Revis and Tony Dorsett probably being the best-known). I like talking to Pittsburgh athletes. How do you feel being from Pittsburgh – and particularly Aliquippa – has shaped you as a player, and as a person, too?
Walker-Kimbrough: Aliquippa is not predominant city. It's easy to get caught up in the lifestyle. You see your friends, and you don't want to go down the wrong path. And I think that my mom did a really good job with me, keeping me on the right path: "You've got to get out of here, or you'll get caught up, and you won't ever leave." That motivated me. I didn't want to be like the typical "great high school athlete – What now?" I wanted to be a good high school athlete, then continue to be better – represent my family, represent Aliquippa and not be another stereotype.
As a confession, I have a certain affection for Pittsburgh athletes. I remember reading about Walker-Kimbrough when she won Western Pennsylvania's girls high school athlete of the year honor in 2013. She was a three-time all-state performer who was recruited in basketball, volleyball and track. It's fortunate for Maryland that she settled on the hardwood.