Joey Piatt (@joey_piatt)
When Ryan Tozer first met Antone Walker, the latter was just a middle school student who occasionally practiced with Tozer’s varsity squad at the Friends Central School. These practices and workouts came before the practice of exceptional middle school athletes at certain private schools playing up at the varsity level became more common, which made it all the more impressive that Walker was already starting to make a name for himself.
Walker’s “gym rat” approach to the game of basketball helped him immediately earn a spot on the Phoenix’s varsity team when he did reach high school. From there, Walker’s contributions to the team grew consistently, year after year. The young guard went from playing spot minutes as a freshman to starting as a sophomore to eventually becoming the team’s senior leader. In four years, Walker established his identity as both a talented basketball player and lead-by-example teammate.
But while basketball remains at the front of Walker’s focus now — with his Wesleyan program in the midst of a near-perfect start to his senior season — there’s more to his identity than just being a playmaker on the court.
Even early in Walker’s high school career, it was clear that he was driven by more than basketball.
“It wasn’t only about basketball for me,” Walker said. “I was really focused on the academic side as well…I knew I probably couldn’t get a Division I offer, so I switched to looking at high-academic Division III schools.”
Among those top-tier D-III programs was Wesleyan, a private liberal arts school situated in Middletown, Conn. Not only was Wesleyan a highly rated school academically, but the school also boasted a basketball program coached by Joe Reilly. In his 14 years running the Cardinals, Reilly has secured many winning seasons, a handful of NESCAC titles, and a few trips to the NCAA Tournament. That prestige, paired with Wesleyan’s academic reputation, made for a winning combination for Walker.
“Wesleyan just has a perfect combination of a great basketball program, a great coach, and top 1% academics,” Walker said. “That’s why I chose Wesleyan.”
Antone Walker (above) is one of the leaders on a strong Wesleyan squad. (Photo courtesy Sterling Rodas/Wesleyan University)
Years later, that perfect fit still holds. After contributing steadily off the bench his freshman season — during which he averaged 7.6 points per game — Walker has been an every-game starter for Reilly’s Cardinals. During that time, he has played whatever role he’s needed for Wesleyan. Some nights, it’s been about dropping 20-plus points in a conference game shootout while on others, it’s required a handful of blocks and steals against an opposing team’s best player.
This year, Walker has continued to make an impact, averaging 10.8 points per game and shooting 40% from beyond the arc. His efforts have helped Wesleyan to a hot start — the team boasts an 11-1 record entering the new year — and the Cardinals figure to have a real chance at not just another NESCAC title, but also a deep NCAA Tournament run.
Walker has made his mark on Wesleyan the same way he made it on Friends Central: he has made everyone around him better.
“[At Friends Central], we couldn’t take him off the floor,” Tozer said. “He played the whole game…we were just better when he was on the floor.”
A large part of Walker’s ability to help the team traces back to his gym rat mentality. Walker is a student of the game, always open to improving.
“He was always receptive to constructive criticism,” Tozer said. “He wanted the feedback; he wanted to know what he could work on. He was actually very unselfish throughout his high school career, which is really uncommon to have: a pass-first type kid.”
Walker’s work ethic on the floor has not just helped him to stuff stat sheets and help Wesleyan add notches in the win column. It has also helped him pursue his other big passion: music.
Walker first found his passion for music in high school when he started putting out his own songs. When those songs had some success, Walker first considered the idea of pursuing a career in music. Still unfamiliar about the many paths that exist for working in music, Walker’s interest was primarily as an artist and creator. But when Walker — whose primary major at Wesleyan is economics — arrived at Wesleyan, the other paths became much clearer.
“I saw some of the business aspects of music, and I was like I could combine this with my economics experience and go that route,” Walker said. “Just knowing all these paths I can take is definitely beneficial to me.”
Once the seed was planted, there was no going back. Walker was sold on pursuing a career in music, and he began to spend his summers gaining experience in the industry. In 2019, he interned with Atlantic Records in Los Angeles. There, he worked on a host of business projects, including a mock digital campaign for rapper Roddy Ricch’s new album.
Walker didn’t stop there, either, as he returned to the music industry in 2020 when he worked more on the creative side of things as a content creation intern at Players Lounge in New Orleans. The following year, he tried another path: interning with Creative Control Entertainment as a music supervision intern.
(Photo courtesy Sterling Rodas/Wesleyan University)
The Philadelphia native’s passion for music has helped him to have another outlet to focus on as one of his other passions, his first passion, begins to wind down.
“It’s definitely a little tough mentally, knowing that these are probably going to be my last few games playing basketball,” Walker said. “But I’m also excited for the new journey that I’m going to be on, following another passion of mine. Basketball and music are pretty much up there, side by side, so I’m really excited for the new journey.”
Even despite juggling both his basketball and music careers — all while continuing to perform in his classes — Walker has also made an effort to enact positive change in his community.
Early in 2020, Walker and some of his Wesleyan teammates founded Athletes Taking Action (ATA), a platform that sought to both raise awareness and collect donations for the Black Lives Matter movement. ATA conducted promotions and challenges with other schools to raise money for organizations seeking to support social justice initiatives. In just a matter of weeks, Athletes Taking Action was able to raise $35,000 and get participation from nearly three-dozen schools.
“We saw the success that we were having, and it was mind-blowing that we could get people to donate this much to this cause,” Walker said. “And from there, it got even bigger.
“Just being able to have that impact and being able to measure our contributions to the community in a quantitative way was definitely very meaningful to my teammates and I.”
At Wesleyan, Walker has made the most of his perfect fit. He has continued his success on the basketball court, and figures to play a part in Wesleyan’s run toward the NCAA Tournament this season. He has also found and pursued a secondary passion, one that he can continue long after the ball stops bouncing. At the same time, even in spite of juggling all it takes to be a successful student-athlete, Walker found the time to co-found Athletes Taking Action and make an impact on his community.
His growth hasn’t been a surprise to those who know him, however, as Antone Walker has always been someone whose work ethic ensures that dreams can in fact become reality.
“He’s just a kid where you knew he was going to do well wherever he went,” Tozer said.