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Western basketball's Jasmen Walton a star at the game she learned from her late father

Western's Jasmen Walton (3) forces a shot up over Howard guard Courtney Furr (3) during a girls high school playoff basketball in 2017.
Western's Jasmen Walton (3) forces a shot up over Howard guard Courtney Furr (3) during a girls high school playoff basketball in 2017. (Daniel Kucin Jr. / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Western’s Jasmen Walton loved basketball from the moment her father began teaching her the game when she was a first grader.

The sport showcased her natural speed, quickness and agility and the shy, quiet girl had a knack for understanding the game. By the time she joined her first Amateur Athletic Union team in the fourth grade, her skills and game sense ranked well ahead of most girls her age.

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“She was so quiet, but her IQ, to me, was mind blowing,” said Walter Roman, her coach with the AAU Maryland Lady Tigers. “Her focus was always beyond herself. She would pass the ball and if they didn’t get it, she would go over to them and show them things.”

By that time, basketball had taken on a deeper meaning for Walton. Six weeks before her 10th birthday, her father, Marcal Walton, was found shot to death near their West Baltimore neighborhood.

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No. 6 Western, No. 13 Poly and Mount Carmel were winners in the girls competition at the 22nd annual Baltimore City Public Schools Basketball Academy on Saturday.

She was devastated, but kept playing the game her father taught her, the one he loved to play on the neighborhood courts, the one that will eventually earn her a Division I scholarship. Basketball remained her connection to her father.

“I really fell in love with it after my father’s passing,” said Walton, 17. “I started taking it more serious, just because my father was the one that introduced me to basketball, so I figured I would play the sport for him. And I just fell in love with the game.”

An All-Metro forward-guard for No. 5 Western, Walton still doesn’t have a lot to say off the court, but she’s more open with her teammates and her versatile game says plenty on the court. At 5 feet 11, she can play anywhere on the court. She can run the point or post up the tallest opponent. She can slash to the hoop or hit the 3-pointer.

The only thing that didn’t seem to come easily to Walton was the vocal side of on-court leadership, but that began to slowly develop with the Tigers.

“I think the most impressive thing about Jasmen has been her ability to handle adversity,” Roman said. “That’s a wide thing, but she is a kid that kind of takes on everything. She’ll try to do too much sometimes, because in her mind she’s going to help everybody. Over time, I’ve watched her become a little more willing to look for resources and talk to people and that kind of thing. Before, she was so much inside herself, she wouldn’t talk to people. I watched that help her as a leader and she’s learned how to motivate them and sometimes take the blame for them.”

At Western, Walton was voted a team captain as a freshman. Because she was so quiet, that surprised her coach, Tasha Townsend.

“I think it was her talent,” Townsend said. “Jasmen can just really dominate and they hadn’t seen that in a while here. There were a lot of girls here then who were seniors and they just embraced it. They wanted to learn from her and they just wanted to complement her any way they could. I think that’s what it was more about.”

In her fourth year as a team captain, Walton counts leadership skills among her strengths along with her ability to get her teammates involved.

“My teammates basically depend on me, so I’ve got to be smart about it. It’s not really a lot of pressure, but it is kind of sometimes,” said Walton, who handles the pressure well but doesn’t really care for it. “Sometimes the game’s on you and it’s not really a comfortable feeling for me.”

Two years ago, she led the Doves to the Class 4A state final. Last year, they fell to Howard in the sectional final despite 23 points from Walton.

“The thing about her is she’s so versatile,” Howard coach Scott Robinson said. “She’s so good inside and she’s tremendous in the open court in transition and then I thought last year when we played them … we won the game, but she was a show within herself with the 3-point shots. She has it all. She can shoot it, she can take the ball to the hole, she’s athletic, she’s quick. She’s a special talent.”

Walton averages about 11.5 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals as the Doves have started 11-3.

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She scored 23 points in both a win over Anacostia, from Washington, D.C., and in a loss to Eleanor Roosevelt, but with a balanced offense and several lopsided games on the Doves’ Baltimore City schedule, she hasn’t played many complete games, keeping her stats down.

With her game and her 3.1 GPA, Walton is an attractive college prospect, but she did not sign early in November. She elected to take her time with the recruiting process. She has a couple of favorites, but remains open to other offers.

Ballhandling skills are emphasized more now in the developmental leagues, leading to a rise of versatile players in basketball.

Walton, who would like to play professionally in the WNBA or overseas, knows she can play Division I basketball. She also knows she’ll major in psychology, something she became interested in during therapy sessions after her father died. She’s just trying to find the right all-around fit.

“To me, it’s about basically trying to find a place where I can consider myself at home and in a family environment away from my mom, somewhere where I know I’ll be looked after when she’s not there,” said Walton, who said she probably won’t commit to a college program until March.

“It’s pretty hard because it’s just like, ‘What if you make this decision and it doesn’t work out the way you expected it to and then you’ve got to rethink the situation that you’re in?’ It’s kind of tough making the decision where you want to go.”

Townsend said finding that family atmosphere is critical for Walton, because that’s what helps her handle the loss of her father.

“She’s very challenged with her father not being here. It meant the world for her to have him in her life and it’s a constant struggle for her, because she is an introvert,” Townsend said. “These kids love her around here and it has nothing to do with basketball. I love that they embrace her and they take care of her and she feels comforted here and I’m glad we’ve been able to help her with this process. … Her AAU team was a family. Her high school team is a family. That’s all she knows, so she’s expecting college life to be the same thing and I think that’s the challenging part.”

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