Nov. 20, 2008
BERKELEY (AP) - Ashley Walker received intravenous fluids before each Pac-10 tournament game for California last March, exhausted from anemia and dehydrated from the lack of iron.
But Walker still went hard every possession on both ends of the floor. Thanks to daily iron pills and better nutrition - she is learning to eat leafy greens like spinach - she's that much stronger ahead of the No. 7 Golden Bears game Friday night against No. 3 Rutgers.
In Cal's season opener last Friday, she had 23 points, eight rebounds and four steals in a 24-point victory against Albany. Two days later, she topped that performance with 27 points, 17 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocked shots in a win over Nevada, surpassing the 1,500 career points mark in the process.
Walker seems unconcerned about any national hype surrounding her - such as being considered the top power forward in the country by some basketball experts.
"That's just what I do, I guess," Walker said. "I'm playing without Devanei and Rama, so I have to do a little bit more. I think what makes me such a good player is I don't think about that stuff. There are a lot of talented power forwards out there."
Cal coach Joanne Boyle can already see an improvement in Walker, who is determined to go out on a high note in her senior season after the Bears were shocked on a buzzer beater by George Washington in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season.
She noticed Walker tired at the end of games or practices late in the season and had some cramping in her calves. Walker hadn't been anemic before but thinks the sheer number of minutes she was playing and a diet short of iron-rich foods probably contributed to the problem.
Boyle figures Walker's experience provided a good lesson.
"They really worked on her nutrition over the summer and gave her a lot of guidelines on that. We all needed to reassess our nutrition," Boyle said. "That was such a big learning curve for this group. You can't shove it down their throat as freshmen. It's a progression."
Walker remembers when she first noticed the fatigue - last Feb. 23 in a 60-58 home defeat to rival Stanford. It was the day before her birthday. Walker still wound up with 17 points and 14 rebounds.
After the IVs during the conference tournament, Walker played in the George Washington game with an infected, swollen left eye and had been sick with the flu and a cold the day of the game.
"Lousy," she recalled about how she felt. "Super exhausted after games. I was really tired. I was cold and my body temperature dropped really low. Dehydration was a big one. A lot of stuff went into it.
"My levels were really low. They put me on iron and it started to pick up and I was so much better - a whole change in my personality, my body, everything. My levels came back up, but it took the rest of the year and into the summer."
Walker was part of a talented recruiting class four years ago that featured Hampton and Alexis Gray-Lawson, and the loss to George Washington still stings. They are using the early exit to motivate, not to mention the fact they haven't won a coveted Pac-10 title.
Walker, who is from nearby Modesto, met up with teammate Natasha Vital back home after the loss. They moped around for a while until Walker's big brother, T.J., told them to pull themselves together and move forward.
"We were watching TV and we were both just sitting there dazed, not paying attention or doing anything. My brother is a basketball player, so he knows, and he walked into the room and said: 'You guys look like sad puppies. You've just got to let it go,"' Walker recalled.
"It will definitely be one of those heart-wrenching games that lasts with you forever. You let it go but it fuels you to do better."