Inside the tattoo of a basketball on Adrian Walton's
upper right arm are three words.
"Whole Lotta Game."
It is a nickname Walton cherishes. He earned that name at the Entertainer's
Basketball Classic in Harlem, a six-week summer playground tournament that is
the talk of Harlem every year-where NBA stars, rap stars and street basketball
legends mingle in crowds that can number in the thousands.
As a teenage unknown the past two summers, Walton took on NBA stars Vince
Carter and Stephon Marbury and walked away with a nickname to stand alongside
those of the great players who came before him: Earl "The Goat" Manigault,
Herman "Helicopter" Knowings and Anthony "Half-Man, Half-Amazing" Heyward, to
name a few.
"He's one of the youngest guys ever to get a nickname up there," said
Entertainer's director, Greg Marius. "He's a crowd favorite."
At 19, Adrian Walton is fast on his way to becoming a Harlem legend. But
he's also in danger of never being more than a street player.
Being "Whole Lotta Game" is great, but it isn't enough. The 6-2, 190-pound
Walton has signed a letter of intent to attend Fordham University (he wants to
stay local) in the fall, but he must pass two more Regents exams this month to
earn his high-school diploma.
Should he pass the Regents, a college career with unlimited potential
awaits him. Flunk the Regents, and the playground could be as good as it gets
-with the attending triumphs and regrets.
Walton, an ambivalent student through much of his high school career, will
have had plenty of time to study this month, because he suffered a broken foot
playing ball in April.
His past includes those head-to-head playground meetings with Carter and
Marbury, but his future is now.
"He's a young man with a lot on his plate," said Wade Williams, Walton's
coach at Bronx Regional, an alternative high school that Walton returned to for
the '00-01 academic year after a stint at prep school. "I hope he does the
"You have to get your degree because you just can't play basketball
forever," Marius said. "I'm noticing the guys from the old Rucker [Park]. A lot
of those guys couldn't adapt to regular life, but I see Adrian making it."
Walton could use a college's structured program to work on his defense and
his team skills. Nevertheless, any conversation about "Whole Lotta Game"
invariably returns to his playground-honed offensive skills.
Said Tom Konchalski, the most respected high school basketball evaluator in
the area: "He can score on anyone. He is a heat-seeking missile going to the
basket. He's just so strong, he can take the ball into the heaviest LIE traffic
and come out with points."
"He's a scoring machine," one high-school talent evaluator said.
Said Walton, "I don't think there's a shot I've ever seen that I didn't
Williams met Walton three years ago, and what he saw was a quiet, reserved
young man with intelligence and basketball potential.
"That was before Rucker," Williams said.
Before the day in July of 1999 when he was anointed "Whole Lotta Game." It
was a stormy day, so the Entertainer's Classic moved from the 155th Street park
across the East River to the Gauchos Gym. The game had a moderate crowd in the
first half until Carter, of the Toronto Raptors, strolled in from a magazine
photo shoot and jumped onto the opposing bench. Rosters are fluid in this
league, especially for NBA stars who happen to be in the neighborhood.
"He checks in and Adrian turns to me and says, 'Let me take him.' I was
surprised," said Tony Rosa, coach of Walton's Vacant Lot Records. "And they
went at it."
Carter would hit a jumper and Walton-a combo guard/forward- would match.
Carter would drive the lane for a layup and Walton would match. The crowd
begged for the other eight players to clear out.
Five times each, the two went step for step. It ended when Carter threw
down an alley-oop slam that literally brought the house down-the fans stormed
the court in reaction and the game ended prematurely.
"It was the best day," said Walton, who has photos of himself and Carter on
the walls of his bedroom. "That's the way Rucker goes-it's just me and him,
one-on-one. That's where I do best."
Last summer, Walton cemented his reputation by taking on Nets point guard
Marbury in the tournament semifinals. Vacant Lot lost the game, but Walton won
"He killed Steph," said Lenny Cooke, one of Walton's close friends and a
19-year-old from Brooklyn widely considered by scouts to be among the top
rising seniors in the nation. "He killed Steph. Don't let anyone say different."
Some of Walton's teammates aren't quite as generous with the praise: "He's
a great player; just ask him," said one former teammate. And he has a second,
less publicized nickname for his inclination to shoot the ball: "No Conscience."
Getting through high school hasn't been easy for Walton, academically or
personally. He's attending his third high school, and he's played for two
prominent summer programs-the Gauchos and Riverside Church-all in the hopes of
raising his status in the legitimate basketball world. That's where 2-1-2
presses and sterile gymnasiums are the norm, not sticking a jumper on Vince
Carter while guys named Fat Joe and Mousey look on.
"Whole Lotta Game" could play for pay at Rucker, where the Entertainer's
games are heldand some players earn $500 and up an outing. But Walton said he
doesn't take money.
"Why would I take money now and jeopardize my future when I can make way
more than that after college?" Walton said. "I can't think like that."
He thinks more about his 19-month-old daughter, Brianna. He thinks about
his mother, Deborah Foster, a breast cancer survivor since 1997. And he
remembers his brother, George Jr., shot and killed in an argument in 1995 and
his father, George Sr., who died of lung cancer two years ago.
Walton was born in Harlem Hospital, around the corner from the tidy
ground-floor apartment where he's lived his whole life.
"I tell people we live in upper Manhattan," said Foster, a preschool
teacher for the past 20 years. She and her husband raised their three boys
(Latoris, 24, lives nearby with his fiancee) to think positive, to rise above
the streets and their influences.
While trying to get his academic and athletic life in order, Walton bounced
from Graphic Arts, a Manhattan school not known for turning out basketball
phenoms, to Bronx Regional, then to Milford (Conn.) Academy, then back to Bronx
Regional, which won the Alternative School League title this season with
Walton averaging 26 points and six assists.
"I wasn't being recognized," he said of his two years at Graphic Arts, his
mother's choice because it was in a better neighborhood. "When I was growing up
it was like, you play for your school team because they're getting recognized
and they're winning, but we weren't doing either."
Williams has tried to be a steadying hand. Bronx Regional has only 350
students and caters to 19- and 20-year-olds who don't fit into the mainstream
public school system.
"Adrian and I have a good relationship because I came before Rucker, before
Vince Carter," said Williams, who constantly reminds Walton that skipping
school won't get him anywhere near his dreams. "Every single day," Williams
said. "This is one of the few places Adrian gets a dose of reality."
Walton spent the 1999-2000 year at Milford Academy, a prep school with a
reputation as an athletic factory, but he dropped out last October. He said it
was because of mistreatment at the hands of the school's football players, who
"broke into our rooms and ripped up our stuff," but he may have had other
motives for coming home.
"I lost my brother and my father, and almost lost my mother," Walton said.
"I don't know what I'd do without her."
And then there's his daughter, who lives in the Bronx with her mother,
Walton's former girlfriend. "He wants to be in her life," Walton's mother said.
"I'm proud that he's being mature, taking responsibility. And I don't change
no diapers for him [Brianna sometimes spends the weekend with Walton]. That's
Being back in Harlem has made Walton realize what his family means. He had
given a verbal commitment to Miami (Fla.) in October but wanted to keep his
options open; after a full year at home, he chose Fordham instead.
"I don't want to miss her glory years," he said of Brianna at his college
announcement news conference, held at Bronx Regional on May 21. He cradled her
in his lap as he spoke. "She's going to be talking all her life, but it'd kill
me not to be there when she speaks for the first time. And my mother would
support me anywhere I go. But she's happy I'm staying nearby."
Walton, however, hasn't made the crossover from street star to college
student-athlete just yet. Williams believes that the foot injury was the
luckiest break of Walton's life.
"The injury saved him as far as his classes are concerned," Williams said.
Walton scored a 950 on the SAT, 130 points more than needed to qualify for NCAA
play as a freshman, but it will be meaningless without passing grades on the
history and science Regents.
"I'm still very, very concerned," Williams said. "He can't graduate without
these grades and we don't offer those courses in the summer."
The Regents begin Monday, the same week the Entertainer's Classic begins
its new season.
Walton's biggest test is at hand.