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Peyton Walker steps up her game for Seffner Christian

Peyton Walker, the reigning Tampa Bay Times Hillsborough County Player of the Year, is one of just two returning seniors.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Peyton Walker, the reigning Tampa Bay Times Hillsborough County Player of the Year, is one of just two returning seniors.

SEFFNER — One weekday morning in June, the Seffner Christian girls basketball team filed into the school's gymnasium for a workout. It wasn't even 8, 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 Tampa Bay 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 accomplish.

Now one of just two 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."

• • •

The high school season is four months away, but Walker doesn't take any time off from the game. At the beginning of the summer, she was working out up to four times a 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 in May was invited to try out for the U.S. under-17 team.

More than 107 girls began the five-day tryout. Walker made the cut to 45 and was one of seven who hadn't tried out before. Her father, Rob, founder and president of the East Tampa Youth Basketball Association, knew 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, much more emphasis is put on fundamentals.

"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."

Peyton — who has five college offers, including from 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."

• • •

When it fits into her schedule, former Seffner Christian guard Sabrina Whiting lends a hand at the Crusaders' morning workouts. Last season Whiting and Walker combined for 1,135 points, 56 percent of their team's offense.

Now that Whiting has graduated — and is headed to Embry Riddle to play on its first 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 are the only returning starters, but a handful of transfers could ensure that the two 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 Crusaders' state championship chances were improved, 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."

• • •

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 runs sprints up and down the court.

Usually, it's up to Fawbush to pick who attempts the shots. 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 kaparsons@tampabay.com. Follow @_kellyparsons.

Peyton Walker steps up her game for Seffner Christian 07/19/14 [Last modified: Saturday, July 19, 2014 8:46pm]
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