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Walker's decision to transfer shows maturity, serves as learning experience

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For Walker, pictured here with assistant coach Matt Insell, Kentucky has been the perfect fit (UK Athletics, Britney McIntosh). For Walker, pictured here with assistant coach Matt Insell, Kentucky has been the perfect fit (UK Athletics, Britney McIntosh).
KINGSTON, R.I. - College is often when kids become adults. At least, that's one of the many goals of college. It's a four-year (sometimes more) window where these "kids" come upon many opportunities and challenges, and by the end of it all, are more mature, well-rounded version of their previous selves. For Kentucky women's basketball sophomore forward Samarie Walker, this thought rings especially true.

For Walker, college has afforded an opportunity to learn not only about herself but also the tendencies of others and the importance of being able to make her own decisions.

Coming out of West Carrollton, Ohio, Walker was one of the most highly regarded high school prospects in the country. She wound up choosing to attend one of the top programs in the country, Connecticut. But something wasn't right. She was homesick.

"I have a 6-year-old brother I'm very close with and I'm very close with both of my parents," Walker said. "That was my primary reason for leaving. The reason I'm happy (at Kentucky) is because I love my teammates, I love the coaches and the atmosphere at Kentucky is perfect."

While getting homesick in college is hardly unique to Walker, she quickly learned that in life, what seems ordinary to some can quickly become anything but that for others. The McDonald's All-American decided it was best for her to transfer closer to home midway through her freshman season.

Her destination was Lexington, Ky., just a 90-minute drive from home where she felt she was still far enough away to grow up on her own, but close enough to be able to stop by West Carrollton when she wanted. It also gave her family a chance to drive to all home games.

While Walker was happy with the decision, others were not. She was criticized in the media and her passion for the game was questioned by everyone from common fans to UConn head coach Geno Auriemma.

Looking at this, one might wonder, what's so wrong with wanting to move closer to home? While I'm by no means a psychologist, I will offer my own diagnosis of the issue: If someone is in love with something (in this case, UConn), and someone else isn't (in this case, Walker), the person in love is going to question the person who isn't. That's just how it is.

With the game just one day away, Walker said she isn't nervous about playing her former team and former coach, she's just nervous about playing with a berth to the Final Four on the line.

"If I wasn't nervous it would mean I didn't care," Walker said. "Coach talks about that a lot. If we're not nervous then we don't care."

UK head coach Matthew Mitchell has been familiar with Walker and her game for quite some time now. The Kentucky head man, who is in his fifth year leading the Wildcats, said he recruited Walker when she was a freshman and sophomore in high school. At that time, Mitchell said Walker was far from a finished product, but he saw a lot of athleticism, strength and potential.

"When she got to Kentucky, it was sort of the same things I saw in her as a young player," Mitchell said. "... I think she has a lot of potential that she has not yet realized yet. I think she's far from a finished product. The last two games have been better for her."

Walker tied the Kentucky NCAA Tournament record for rebounds in a game (13) in each of the Wildcats' opening two victories, and was just one rebound off that total Sunday night when she pulled down a dozen boards. In UK's three NCAA Tournament victories, Walker has averaged 13.0 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.0 steals.

Going into Tuesday's game, Mitchell said he wasn't sure that she would be playing with a certain chip on her shoulder, but he wouldn't be surprised if that were the case.

"I don't know exactly what she's thinking, but you would have to believe she's a kid that probably has a little extra pop to get something done," Mitchell said. "That's just human nature. I don't know that to be true, but I would just think that would be a reasonable expectation."

Seeing Walker handle all the questions on her transfer away from UConn leading up to the Elite Eight showdown, Mitchell said he was proud of the way she has handled it. One of Mitchell's 'three winning tools' is honesty. His message to Walker was to simply be honest and answer the questions.

"I'm real proud of the way she's been handling things," Mitchell said. "It's not the toughest situation that she could be in, and probably will be in, in her lifetime, but it's tough at this point in time. I think she'll play well (Tuesday)."

For Walker, despite being just 19 years of age, the decision to transfer offered her something more than an opportunity to be closer to her family. It gave her a chance to make a decision on her own - a decision she's very proud of.

"Sometimes it would make me frustrated and sometimes it was whatever kind of," said Walker about how she felt when she heard people talking about her decision to transfer. "I made my own decision. The decision was for me. Whatever people think, that's their business. Everybody has an opinion. What really mattered was what I felt, and now I'm happy."

Sounds like an answer from a young adult who has learned about life through college.

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