SEFFNER — One weekday morning in June, the Seffner Christian girls basketball team filed into the school's gymnasium for a summer workout. It wasn't even 8 a.m. yet, but the Crusaders immediately took to the court with a 3-on-3 drill.
Her teammates were supposed to hit the ground running, but all Peyton Walker saw was walking.
"I think we missed like 100 layups," she recalled.
So when the practice was over, Walker told coach Greg Fawbush she needed to have a talk with the girls in the weight room.
Walker, the reigning Times' Hillsborough County Player of the Year, led her team to the Class 3A state championship game in February, scoring 50 points and grabbing 32 rebounds in the Crusaders' two final four games. But, as the runnerup banner hanging in the corner of the gymnasium reminds her, the end result — a 65-51 loss to Miami Country Day — wasn't what they had set out to do.
Now one of just two returning seniors, it's finally Walker's team. And she wasn't about to let it slack off.
"I'm not the best basketball player, but I feel like working hard is what brings me to different levels," she said. "I want them to understand that working hard can bring you so much, not just in basketball but in life."
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The high school season might still be four months away, but Walker doesn't take any time off from the game. At the beginning of the summer, Walker found herself working out up to four times per day.
"Then my dad was like, 'You need to calm down,'" she said. "So then I just did two-a-days."
Though most of her time is spent at Seffner Christian's summer workouts or with her travel team, the East Tampa Thunder, Walker had a unique experience in May when she was invited to try out for the USA Basketball U17 national team.
More than 107 girls began the five-day tryout, but soon, Walker was one of just 45 remaining and one of just seven who hadn't tried out before to survive the cut. Her father, Rob, founder and president of the East Tampa Youth Basketball Association, knew exactly what made his daughter stand out.
Walker attended kindergarten through sixth grade in Europe, getting the majority of her basketball foundation playing club ball in Belgium. Overseas, Peyton Walker said, there's much more emphasis put on fundamentals of the game.
"She came up in a system where they don't care if you're the tallest or the shortest," Rob Walker said. "If it's your turn to handle the ball, you handle the ball."
Walker, who has five college offers including Tennessee State and La Salle, wasn't one of the 13 chosen for the team. But she didn't waste time with disappointment.
"Truly going to that has made me a completely different person," she said. "It has brought my confidence to an entirely different level. It made me know that, if I work hard, I can compete."
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When it fits into her schedule, former Seffner Christian guard Sabrina Whiting comes to the Crusaders' morning workouts to lend a hand. Last season Whiting and Walker combined for 1,135 — 56 percent of their offensive output.
But now that Whiting has graduated — and is headed to Emrby Riddle to play on its first ever girls basketball team — Walker's responsibility has grown.
Whiting knows the Crusaders are in good hands.
"Peyton's looking a lot better than the beginning of the summer," Whiting said. "She's a very powerful player. She's very strong and smart. Her shot has gotten so much better since her freshman year. It's very quick now."
Walker and Ally Parimore will be the only returning starters, but a handful of offseason transfers could ensure that the pair have as much help as they need.
In June, Fawbush announced that Riverview's Asia Royster, Armwood's Alyssa Nieves, Lakewood's Deja Swinton and Coral Springs Charter's Chelsie Hall — all offensive leaders on their previous teams — had transferred to Seffner Christian.
The move improved the Crusaders' state championship chances in one fell swoop, something that excites Walker. But she also knows that, even though it's her team, she won't likely be the only one leading the way.
"We've got to understand, 'Okay, we're not going to be scoring 20 points every night,'" Walker said. "It's going to be different, but then again, it's going to prepare me for college.
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At the end of every workout, Fawbush puts somebody on the free-throw line. Make both shots, and the day is done. Miss one, and the team would run sprints up and down the court.
Usually, it's up to Fawbush as to who will attempt the shots. Last Tuesday morning, Walker volunteered.
"Peyton thinks she can send you home without making you run," Fawbush announced to the girls gathered around the basket.
Standing up for her team, no matter the situation, is something on which Walker prides herself. And with two swishes of the net that morning, she did it once again.
Contact Kelly Parsons at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @_kellyparsons.