Rochester — Late last year, with Martez Walker’s status at Texas in limbo and his life seemingly spinning out of control, Greg Kampe picked up the phone and offered the kid from Detroit a second chance.
With strict stipulations.
He would have to walk on at Oakland, pay his own way for classes — and be completely cleared, no plea-bargaining, of charges of assault in Austin.
“We weren’t going to put ourselves out there if he wasn’t,” Kampe said Wednesday at Oakland media day. “He was cleared, everything was dropped, that was all gone. And we scholarshipped him over the summer.”
It’s a happy ending for the 6-foot-4, 185-pound guard, a redshirt sophomore who reunites with Detroiters and longtime friends such as preseason Horizon League player of the year Kahlil Felder, Percy Gibson and Sherron Dorsey-Walker.
And it has the potential to be a happy ending for Kampe, who called the collection of talent the best in his 32 years.
Felder went so far as to say this year’s team is capable of a Sweet 16 or Final Four run.
Walker, for one, knows about those lofty expectations, playing a year at Texas. As the team’s sixth man, he helped Texas reach the NCAA Tournament and defeat Arizona State before losing to Michigan.
But in September, days after the Ray Rice video came out, Walker allegedly got into a fight with his girlfriend in a dorm room, and things came crashing down. He was charged with assault and suspended from the team.
And before he knew it, he was packing to come home.
“It was hard having to pack all my stuff up,” said Walker, a former Detroit Pershing standout who chose Texas over Oakland when he was being recruited out of high school. “It was a long day.
“I was just shocked at what was going on, and how fast my life changed. It was a tough ride.”
He arrived at Oakland in January, and was given a spot on the scout team.
“He could come right in and regroup with the guys he grew up with,” said Felder, one of those guys.
Felder also said the team’s 10-day trip to Spain in August helped Walker feel more a part of the family.
The players had no cellphone service, so they actually had to talk to one another.
“Guys usually are texting their girlfriends or always talking on the phone,” Felder said. “Without having your phones, it forces you to do other things. We were with each other 24-7.
“It was good for him to just be there and see everything (Walker was not eligible to play). ... That just builds the camaraderie and togetherness that we need.”
Walker had no problem fitting in with the team, but he had to fit in in the classroom. And, he’s done that, posting a 3.2 grade-point average one semester, 2.8 the other.
Before Kampe would give Walker the shot, though, he had a long talk with Texas coach Rick Barnes, and Barnes helped assure Kampe that Walker would be worth a shot.
Barnes told Kampe he believed the charges would be dropped, and after Kampe looked over the police report and the mountain of evidence from attorneys, he was convinced, as well.
“He’s a kid from the city who’s learning how to become a man, and he’s not there yet,” Kampe said. “But some of the things that have happened to him, he’s put himself in a position for them to happen to him.”
Walker agrees with that, and admits he’s made mistakes.
And, he knows his role at Oakland will depend on more than just stats (he averaged 4.7 points off the bench for Texas in 2013-14) — and even basketball.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Walker said. “You just gotta walk away from situations. Even though you’re mad or angry about something, you just gotta walk away. It’s very hard, definitely where I come from, Detroit on the east side, it’s a tough area over there.
“I learn from my mistakes, and keep moving forward.”