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Largo's Walker takes pride in her defense

Two weeks ago, Ebony Walker was scouring the gymnasium floor for a lost contact lens.

The Largo junior had it knocked out during a district semifinal basketball game against Dunedin. An assistant coach eventually retrieved the lens. Trouble was, Walker couldn't keep it from falling out, so she played with blurred vision.

It was the one time opponents have been able to stop her.

Most times, Walker is a integral part of the game plan, especially on defense, where she has a Midas touch at blocking shots. The few times opponents dare to enter the lane against her, they are greeted by long arms that usually swat their shots into orbit.

Because of that, opposing playmakers often become passive whenever she is near.

"I can definitely sense that other players alter their shots or approach things differently when I'm around," Walker said. "It's fun to be known for knocking other people's shots away."

The 6-foot center seems like a natural shot-blocker. Just look at those long arms. She has used them to average five blocks this season.

But Walker isn't so much a hulking presence in the middle as a sleek, out-of-nowhere ball hawk. She likes to play deep under the basket, emerging just when an opponent thinks she has an open look.

Then - swat! - she does her thing. With her agility, she alters drives to the basket that others could never reach.

And on those occasions when she doesn't get the ball, opponents often miss because of the fear of rejection.

Walker's ability to stuff opponents has led to many fastbreak opportunities, which is key for coach Dee Feazell's up-tempo style to be successful.

Of course, no fastbreak has ever started without the ball. Moreover, Walker's shot blocking often creates the best kind of fastbreak opportunity, one in which opponents continue one way as the ball suddenly heads the other.

But Walker isn't there strictly to swat shots. She also is drawn to errant shots like a divining rod to water, averaging 12.8 rebounds. And she's pretty adept at steals with 4.4 a game.

Okay, that's her defense.

Offense?

She has that, too.

Walker averages 10 points and is the prime scoring option down low. Her all-around play is a big reason Largo is 26-1 and playing in the state semifinals for the first time.

"There is nobody that can stop Ebony," Feazell said. "She's always going to step up and play hard. She's really made so much improvement this year."

After going through what she called a sophomore slump, Walker worked in the offseason with her coaches, who pushed her to complement her solid shot blocking with more physical low-post and help defense. She also learned how to become a reliable inside scorer by mastering the complex choreography of drop steps and up-and-under moves and developing a nice touch on short jumpers.

"Basically, I needed to be more aggressive," Walker said.

Her biggest impact came in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship. With her team trailing Lakewood at the half, Walker responded by blocking six shots, grabbing 15 rebounds and scoring eight points.

"Whenever we're down, I feel like I need to do something to get us back in the game," Walker said. "But really, that's the mind-set of the whole team."

Walker continued to shine through the postseason, and came up big again in the second half of the region final against the Spartans.

"I think we're all tripping right now knowing that we're going to the state tournament," she said. "It's such a great feeling."

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