Trae Walker’s most memorable moment in basketball wasn’t the time he scored 24 points for Woodrow Wilson against Eastern.
It wasn’t the time he scored 17 for Kecoughtan High School in Hampton, Va., during his two years away from Camden.
And it wasn’t even the time he scored 27 to lead Veterans Memorial Middle School to the Camden city championship, although that’s the setting for the story.
“When I was younger, I always used to look up to LeBron [James] and all them, and I always told myself that someday I wanted to be somebody’s favorite player,” Walker says. “When I was at [Veterans Memorial], this little kid walked up to me and told me I was his favorite player.
“I was like, ‘That’s all I wanted out of playing basketball.’ ”
Through the ensuing years, Walker has continued to gain fans, and they include his coach, teammates, opponents, and followers of South Jersey basketball.
Born with a right arm that is about half the size of his left arm, Walker has become an inspiration to athletes who play with him and against him.
When Walker, a 5-foot-10 senior, scored a career-high 24 points last Thursday against Eastern, the No. 9 team in the Inquirer Top 25, Vikings coach Kevin Crawford found himself nearly mesmerized by the performance.
“Trae was on fire,” Crawford said. “As a coach in the heat of the battle, sometimes you get lost in the game. With the way Trae was playing, I almost became a spectator and was able to kind of say, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool watching this kid.’
“I think everyone there realized they witnessed something special.”
Eastern assistant coach Jeff Klauder took to Twitter to tout Walker: “He was amazing. He gave our guys fits. Humbling to watch a young man give it all.”
Haddon Heights coach Mike Ricci was so impressed with Walker during summer-league play that he brought his daughter, Emily, to watch.
“I was amazed every time I saw him play in the summer,” Ricci said. “After watching him, I brought my 12-year-old daughter, who plays basketball, to the summer league to watch him. She couldn’t believe it. I introduced her after the game. He is an even better kid.”
Senior Trae Walker is a special player for Woodrow Wilson basketball team. He scored 24 on 10th-ranked Eastern the other night. His story coming Thursday @greatusports @WilsonTigerAD pic.twitter.com/2OkjeeEPxh
— Philip Anastasia (@PhilAnastasia) January 23, 2018
Walker is well-known in Camden sports circles. He played four years of football for the Whitman Park youth organization, excelling at quarterback and defensive back.
“You should have seen him play football,” said Woodrow Wilson’s Preston Brown, who coaches the Tigers’ football and basketball teams. “He would make plays. It was almost amazing. He never missed a tackle.”
Walker lived in the Germantown section of Philadelphia before moving to Camden when he was about 12. He was a middle-school standout in two sports, then averaged 20 points for Woodrow Wilson’s freshman basketball team in the 2014-15 season.
Walker moved to Hampton, Va., and lived with his father for two years, attending Kecoughtan. One of his school’s biggest rivals was Bethel, Allen Iverson’s former high school.
Walker moved back to Camden last summer. He lives with his grandmother in the Cramer Hill section of the city.
“This is my city,” Walker said Monday. “If I’m going to do anything, I’m going to do it for this city.”
Walker uses his right arm to help him handle the basketball. But he almost always drives to the left and shoots with his left hand. He has three-point range, a quick first step, and a strong feel for the game.
“People know he can only go one way, and he still gets to the basket,” Brown said. “He’s developed special skills, and he never complains. I see people sometimes, when we’re getting ready to play another team, and they’ll be like, ‘They can’t be serious? They’re going to play this kid?’
“Then they see him play.”
Woodrow Wilson junior forward Stanley King said Walker is an inspiration to his teammates.
“It’s incredible to have a one-arm kid on the team,” King said. “He works hard, never gives up.”
Walker said his game against Eastern boosted his confidence.
“I hadn’t had a breakout game this season,” Walker said. “It was exciting, but I was humble about it. I was just playing basketball.”
Despite the notoriety that resulted from his 24-point performance against one of South Jersey’s top teams, Walker said he draws more satisfaction from quiet moments, when he hears from people who admire his determination.
“When I work out in the gym, people walk up to me all the time and say, ‘Yo, I just want to tell you that you’re blessed. I’m glad I saw you. You make me want to go harder,’ ” Walker said. “I get that all the time.
“When I was younger I used to let it get to me when people would make fun of me. People still make fun of me to this day. But I just don’t let it get to me, and I focus on what’s important.”
An affable 18-year-old with braces, Walker isn’t sure about his future. He hopes to improve his grades – “I’m smart, but sometimes I get lazy,” he said – and would like to play basketball in college.
“I just have to see what God has in store for me,” Walker said.
Because of his condition and his determination to play sports, Walker has faced opposing viewpoints for much of his life. Some people focused on his limitations. Others have encouraged him to pursue his dreams to the fullest.
He said he shrugs off the doubters and appreciates the supporters. Most of all, he tries to set an example.
“You should be grateful for any way you were born,” Walker said “Just be yourself. You shouldn’t think because you lack something that you’re not capable of the same things as someone else.
“If anybody should see me, I hope they say, ‘Well, if he can do it, I know I can do it. I can be even better.’
“Especially in sports. There are a lot of kids who think just because they can’t dribble their sixth-grade year they should never play basketball forever.
“I wasn’t always good. I played, and I practiced, and I practiced. I got better. I just kept playing and playing, and it paid off.”