There can be no debate that Craig Walker is one of the greatest basketball players in Chelsea High School history – if not the greatest.
Walker averaged 28.8 points per game in his senior year to lead the entire state in scoring. He helped the Red Devils win a Greater Boston League championship in 1981 and earn a trip to the North sectional final, where they lost by a basket in a classic versus Wayland.
Walker was named the Boston Globe Division 2 player of the year (Patrick Ewing of Cambridge was the Division 1 player of the year) and went on to attend Maine Central Institute, New Mexico Junior College (where 6-feet-6-inch Chelsea resident John Fisher became a basketball teammate), and the University of Tennessee-Martin, now a Division 1 program, leading his team to the Gulf South Conference championship. He later became an assistant coach at the school.
Now 50 years old and living in Saugus with his wife, Brenda, and their daughter, Erika, Craig Walker credits his older brother, the late Bobby Walker, for helping him develop his athletic abilities in his childhood.
“We grew up in the Clinton Court projects and every day we played ball,” recalled Craig. “We played all the sports – there were some super athletes there like Mike Lush, Scotty and Keith Yianacopolus. Frank Mullins, Dave Molloy and his brothers.”
Bobby Walker always brought along his brother Craig to the neighborhood games.
“I always tagged along with Bobby,” said Craig, smiling. “He tried to get rid of me but he never could. We played Little League together for the Red Sox.”
Craig said his brother was always an excellent athlete. “Bobby was always in great shape. He was about 6-2. He was great all the way back to Pop Warner but I stuck with baseball. I played freshman baseball for coach Mike Sullivan and pitched a no-hitter and hit for the cycle in the same game.”
But Craig soon devoted his full-time attention to basketball, having watched Bobby play earlier for the Red Devils and head coach Jack Niven at the State Armory.
“I always went to Bobby’s games – I tried to make it to every game,” said Craig.
There was no looking back to other sports for Craig Walker. He became a starting varsity basketball player as a freshman. He would grow to be 6 feet, 4 inches tall, just a tad smaller than the Red Devils’ 6-5 center Jay Ash, the current Chelsea city manager, who would go on to star at Clark University and add a couple of inches to his frame.
“I dunked on Jay plenty of times in practice,” said Craig. “Jay was a great kid and a great basketball player.”
Craig regrets that he never got the opportunity to play basketball with Bobby in the Chelsea High program.
“I never got a chance to play basketball with Bobby because he blew out his knee in baseball,” said Craig. “I was so much looking forward to playing basketball with him. Coach Niven was looking forward to Bobby and I playing together. But he wasn’t able to play his senior year. His knee was never the same. He had two knee replacements later on in life.”
They did have their family battles in basketball at Clinton Court.
“When I first started in basketball, he would beat me pretty good,” said Craig. “As I got older and taller – by the time I was a freshman I was already 6-3. That’s when he couldn’t handle me any more.”
Craig became Chelsea High’s all-time leading scorer in boys basketball. He could shoot the lights out from long range before there was a three-point rule. He was a Boston Globe and Boston Herald All-Scholastic and the GBL player of the year.
In Craig’s senior year, Jeff Hagan, a 6-feet-7-inch junior who went on to play at Boston University, joined the team. “It helped my game because it took a little bit of stuff off of me. They were double-and-triple-teaming me but with him down low, I could get the ball in low to him and he could kick it back out to me.”
Other players from those memorable teams in CHS basketball were David Rudolph, Joseph Mullaney [the current CHS principal], Dennis Antle, Mark Thompson, Darren Cromwell, Darren Moore, and Richie Maronski. Chelsea won back-to-back GBL titles in 1980 and 1981.
Craig scored 47 points versus Somerville and electrified the crowds throughout his senior year especially so when he dunked the ball against Wayland before a packed house at Salem High School.
“I think I left from the free throw line,” said Craig. “I wish I had it on film.”
And Bobby Walker was in the stands at the Chelsea-Wayland state tournament game, so proud of his little brother as he had been so many times in the past.
“He was an excellent brother,” said Craig. “He had a heart of gold. He would give you the shirt off his back. I’m going to miss him. He taught me teamwork, sportsmanship, to work hard – anything a big brother would teach a younger brother.”
There may be another Walker set to make a mark and carry on the family’s majestic legacy in sports. Craig’s daughter, Erika, is a 5-feet-10-inch sixth grader.
“She doesn’t play basketball yet but I do want her to play,” said Craig. “Chorus and drama are her thing now. But she wants to play volleyball.”