Sam Walker is an icon on and off the court to students, athletes, coaches and fans from all over this region. Coach Sam Walker reached a milestone in his career on January 9, 2013 as he became the all-time winningest coach in A&M-Commerce history against Midwestern State, 74-66, taking him to 202 wins. Jim Gudger previously held that title as the head coach for men’s basketball from 1969-1983. But this record alone is not what makes Coach Walker a role model in Lion Athletics. He is known by many as an intense, focused, and determined head basketball coach who has a tendency to pace back and forth from one end of the bench to the other, but not as many know him personally—as a jokester, mentor, loving father and loyal Lion. The story of Sam Walker and his 202nd win lies within his journey to, then, East Texas State University 21 years ago, the mentors who have paved the way to his success, and ultimately to become an example to the future of college basketball. Old School Recruiting Never Grows Old Walker began his coaching career as a student basketball assistant for Navarro Junior College in 1987 before transferring to Sam Houston State in 1989. After graduating from Sam Houston in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and health, Walker started his tenure at East Texas State University to serve as Paul Peak’s assistant coach. A 2012 Hall of Fame Inductee, Peak moved to Texas from California in 1991 to continue his career at ET where he spent nine seasons as the head coach for men’s basketball. Peak welcomed Walker beside him on the bench, as well as in his home. “I lived in the locker room for about eight months. I bought a mattress in a garage sale, put it in the closet and brought it out at night. I thought I had it made and said, ‘This couldn’t be any better.’ I’ve got all this space and got many compliments about being the first one there and the last one to leave since my car never left the Field House. Later, Coach Peak welcomed me into his home, and I shared the couch with the family dog, Sasha. I would always start off on the couch, and end up on the floor since Sasha would take it over,” recalled Coach Walker about his first places of residence in Commerce. Coach Peak believed that every athlete he coached had the potential to succeed on and off the court. Peak held Walker to that standard. “It was funny watching him divide his time between basketball, where his passion was, and school, which he had to get done as a student. To say he was a shining example of what a student should be was a bit of a stretch, because his interest was in basketball, and he knew that was what he was going to do for the rest of his life. But, he did get it done, and I was proud of him for that because we had him on the road most of the time.” But what Coach Peak realized is while it seemed like hard work for Sam to earn his master’s degree, recruiting came naturally to him. He quickly established himself as one of the top recruiters in Texas and in the southwest region—a reputation that continues to this day. “Sam knows everybody in Texas in basketball. He knew so many people, and just like crashing on my couch, he would turn in his expense reports and there would never be a night of lodging, because he would crash on everyone’s couch every night while he was scouting and recruiting,” Peak said. Coach Peak officially passed the ball to Walker as Head Coach for Lions basketball in May 2000 while Peak handled the Athletic Director position. “He was a great find for me as an Assistant Coach. He really made my last couple of years coaching nice, and he was just taking over. When I became Athletic Director, I was ready to hand it over.”
Coach Walker began making strides in his career immediately. • Earned a 17-10 record in his first season, 2000-2001 • Ended 2002-2003 with a 16-12 record and a third place finish in the South Division • Unforgettable 2004-2005 with a 28-5 record and 10-2 overall in the South Division. This paved the way for the 17th Lone Star Conference championship defeating West Texas in the title game, 77-62, and then qualified them for their first NCAA Division II tournament since 1988.