It was tipoff time at Southwest DeKalb High School. The defending girls state basketball champions were playing a young, outgunned opponent they would hold scoreless in the first quarter, and there were probably 100 fans scattered through the wooden bleachers.
But none of that seemed to matter to SWD guard Jada Walton, the team’s senior leader. She had that look in her eyes, the same one she wears in every practice and during every game. It has been that way since she showed up at her first preseason practice her freshman year, and it’s still that way four years later.
“I remember when she came out there as a freshman, she didn’t act like a lot of young kids,” Southwest DeKalb coach Kathy Richey-Walton said. “She came out like she had something to prove.”
Walton (no relation to the coach) has spent the last three seasons proving she belongs. She earned a starting spot that first year and helped the Panthers reach the state championship game. She finished the task as a junior, as Southwest DeKalb won the Class AAAAA title.
On Jan. 11, Walton reached another milestone by scoring her 1,000th career point. It came on a drive to the basket — she also drew a foul on the play — in a 54-16 victory against Clarkston. They stopped the game, presented her with the game ball and took a few photos.
“I worked hard for this my whole career,” she said. “You want to achieve something every step of your career, and I feel like 1,000 points is great start to something big in my basketball career.”
Walton is the defensive centerpiece for a Southwest DeKalb team that plays tough and aggressive. At 5-foot-10, she’s athletic enough to be matched against the opposition’s big girl or point guard. Richey-Walton has used her many times at each of the five spots during a game.
Walton averages 13.5 points. It could easily be more, but her desire to spread the points and keep others involved prevents her average from being over-inflated. And her work ethic has never changed; Walton is always doing something to get better.
“That’s just how I was raised,” she said. “It’s only going to get harder. It’s just progress. You have to keep putting the work in.”
She already has signed with Texas A&M, a decision she reached with a determination and resolve that matches her on-court persona. She methodically went through the list of offers (which came from numerous schools in the ACC and SEC, as well as other major conferences) and pinpointed the pros and cons of each. She settled on the Aggies, even though she’s entering a competitive situation when she arrives on campus.
“I’ve always worked for my position,” she said. “It’s like when I came to Southwest DeKalb, there were several girls ahead of me. I just believe in working and you’ll get it.”
The only disappointment is the inability share the success with her mother, who died of breast cancer during her freshman year. Walton today wears a pink undergarment to honor her mom, who was always her biggest cheerleader.
Walton became emotional on signing day when she thought about her mother. She is fortunate to be embraced by the Southwest DeKalb community, many of them on hand for the historic 1,000th point. Her supporters — one skipped her son’s gymnastics practice to support Walton — have helped her weather the emotional storm.
“I’ve got a great team around me,” she said. “The support has been great.”
Now Walton wants to help Southwest DeKalb make a run at another state championship. The Panthers are ranked No. 4 in Class AAAA and face a challenge from the likes of Buford, Flowery Branch and Arabia Mountain.
“We’ve still got some work to do, but we’re making progress,” she said. “It would be nice to get another one.”