Dantley Walker’s story is almost pure Hoosiers-style fiction. A small kid from the small town of Panaca, he’s battled constant questions about his size (he’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds) and athletic ability, supposed weaknesses that somehow didn’t stop him from shooting his way into the high school record book as Nevada’s all-time leading scorer. (He also owns state records in assists and 3-pointers and nine other categories, but who’s counting?)
Once a long shot to play even low-level college basketball, word of Walker’s skills eventually made it out of Panaca, and soon Division I programs came calling. One of those was UNLV, which signed Walker in 2011. After going on a two-year LDS mission, Walker redshirted in 2013-14 and now will finally suit up for the Rebels.
As the season dawns, his role is unclear. But the mystique surrounding the sharpshooter from Class 2A Lincoln County High School (enrollment: 179) is undeniable—most fans know about the preposterous statistics, but little else. Which probably explains why, when you visit UNLV basketball-related websites, Walker is one of the hottest topics in discussion forums: Is he for real? Can he play at this level? Will he ever be a difference-maker at UNLV?
The fact is, Walker, who turned 22 this month, has yet to play a minute of college basketball, and he may never be a big contributor at the Division I level. Still, plenty of people are curious to see how his collegiate career plays out—not only UNLV fans, but those who have known Walker for years and have borne witness to his legend. To them, there’s no doubt the small kid from Panaca is something special with a basketball in his hands—and they have the stories to prove it.
Dantley Walker was immersed in basketball from the beginning. His father was a gritty forward at Moapa Valley High School and one of the state’s all-time greats in his own right. He passed his love of the game on to his son, coaching him at every level and molding him into a basketball machine.
Kevin Hannig [former teammate]: The first time I met Dantley Walker, he was in the third grade and I was in the sixth. He was playing in the sixth-grade league in baseball. He was always a hell of an athlete.
Greg Walker [Dantley’s father and assistant coach at Lincoln County High]: Around sixth grade, I don’t think anyone would have seen him and said “future star” or anything like that. He didn’t really stand out. But by the time he was in eighth grade he’d had some games where he’d make eight 3-pointers and score close to 50 points, and that’s when people started to talk about him.
Mike Wood [Dantley’s head coach at Lincoln County]: The first time I ever really saw him in action was when we brought him over in eighth grade to practice with us—which I don’t even think you’re supposed to do—and he could definitely hold his own. He was just a little kid at the time, but he had some amazing instincts for the game. He could already see the floor well. He was something special already.
Hannig: When he was in middle school, he’d practice with the varsity team every now and then. At that point, he was already a better shooter than everybody on the team. He could shoot from so deep.
Wood: He was a kid who worked hard and didn’t expect to start, but I had to start him as a freshman. He was that good.
Hannig: He contributed right off the bat, scoring 20 a game.
Wood: That year, we went to Needles. It’s a California school but they’re in our league, and we ended up playing them in the state championship, so they were no slouch. Some of our seniors fouled out, and the game went into overtime. And he won the game on the road. He scored every one of our points in overtime.
Hannig: I fouled out on the first play in overtime, and he didn’t pass the ball after that. We loved it on the bench—we were telling him to keep shooting. That was his first really big performance. And obviously that started happening a lot.
Jeff Newton [head coach at Lake Mead Christian Academy]: We actually matched up [against Lincoln County] in a tournament at Virgin Valley his freshman year, and we squeaked one out. I wasn’t able to see him in middle school or anything like that, so the first time I saw him was in that tournament, and when the game was over and we looked at the stats and found out the kid was a freshman, we said, “You’ve gotta be kidding me!”
Matt Cameron [athletic director at Lincoln County]: The moment when I knew he was special was in the state semifinal game, playing Rite of Passage. We were down 18 in the fourth quarter, and Dantley just took over. He was being double- and triple-teamed, and he scored 36. He basically took on [Rite of Passage] by himself and beat them. As a freshman, you just don’t see that.
Walker: He was our leading scorer at about 18 a game, and he was our leading assist guy at about seven a game. And we had a really good team that year. We won the state championship.
For the next two years after that, Dantley averaged about 30 and the rest of the team would average around 20. Dantley was doing just about everything for us.
Wood: It’s tough to coach when you’ve got a kid who’s that much better than everyone else, because you’ve got to bring the rest of the team along and encourage them, too. But Dantley was the best option, and I wasn’t afraid to go to the well every time, especially if it was a close game. I remember he’d be trying to dish the ball and get everybody involved and that’s great, but if there’s three minutes left and it’s a tie game, I’d say, “Keep the ball in your hands, and I either want a layup out of somebody or I want you letting it go. That’s it.” And I’d say, “Win the game, we’ve got three minutes left,” and he’d say, “You got it.”
Walker: Mike always made Dantley the central focus of the whole offense. He always had the ball in his hands, and we were always trying to get him open. He probably had the ball in his hands 90 percent of the time—he’d break the presses, he’d call the play. Just about everything.
Wood: At practice, I could put the four worst dudes on the team with him, and he’d take them and beat the best five. Stuff like that happened every day. He won every drill. He’d die trying to win every contest.
Walker: Once he became established, it was always gimmick defenses. Nobody ever played Dantley straight up.
Wood: The craziest defense I had ever seen was Agassi Prep. They were playing a triangle-and-2 with two guys on him, so they had three guys guarding the other four.
There was one game against Lake Mead, and they had DeQuan Thompson, who went on to Dixie State College. He was a senior and Dantley was a junior, and that game went into overtime. In the last seven minutes and overtime, Dantley had 29 points. And DeQuan was probably the best defender I had ever seen in 2A. In fact, I remember Newton looking down at me a couple of times, and I was just like, “Wow.”
Newton: We play Lincoln County twice a year. In 2010, we met here in the Lake Mead holiday tournament, and we met in the championship game. I had DeQuan; and remember Dixie State played UNLV in preseason last year and did pretty well. So in my mind, DeQuan is a legitimate D-I player, and on paper and athletically, DeQuan was superior. But on that night, Dantley was just tearing it up.
Lincoln County would run a high pick-and-roll—I mean 22 feet out, 24 feet out—and Dantley did it to perfection. DeQuan and the others played their hearts out, but Dantley ended up with 40-something, and he got us 95-88 in the championship game.
Wood: He just understands the game better than everyone else. If it was close at the end of a game, a lot of coaches would take a timeout. I didn’t even have that approach, especially those last two years. If it was close and we had the ball, it was just better to let him go. It was like organized chaos, and he would make a good decision every time.
Cameron: One thing I loved to watch was the look on the other coach’s face. You know, they’re coming out of a timeout, they’ve come up with a game plan for defending him, and he’d come down the court and pull up 10 feet behind the 3-point line and drain two or three in a row. And the coaches would have this look like, “What is going on?”
Despite average athleticism, Dantley put up video-game numbers night after night—he averaged 36.2 points and 10.3 assists per game as a senior—and as a result he began to rewrite the state record book. Two of his greatest achievements came as a senior, when he set the all-time marks for points in a single game and points in a career.
Wood: Dantley could get hotter than anyone you’ve ever seen. That’s pretty much what happened when he set the [single-game] record against Agassi Prep—when he scored 73.
The year before, his junior year, we played Agassi Prep and we were up 17 with a few minutes to go, and there was a lot of trash talking going on that game. And Dantley hit a 3, and I don’t know what he said but he said something, like “You can’t stop me,” and he might have even cursed. But anyway, the ref T’d him up, and he [already] had four fouls, so he was disqualified. And we lost by one. We just fell apart without him.
Walker: So Agassi came out here and did what a lot of teams tried to do with Dantley: They tried to rough him up. He wasn’t very big, so they’d put a couple of tough guys on him and they tried to beat on him. They were knocking him down, and our crowd was about ready to come out of their seats and onto the court. And then all of a sudden it was just like he couldn’t miss. It was inside, it was outside. And it wasn’t like he just shot and shot—it didn’t seem that way. At the end of the game, [Wood] thought he had 50 points, which is still a lot, but then the guy announced, “Dantley Walker has set a new state record with 73 points,” and I’m like, “73?!” I’ve never seen him shoot better than that. Sometimes it was like he was 6 or 7 feet behind the 3-point line, and it was like a layup.
Wood: It was incredible. He was untouchable that night. And this isn’t a game where you’re going in and nobody knows who he is—everyone knows him at this point. But he got ’em for 73 that night. And we won, 101-86.
Walker: But he had a lot of games like that his senior year. He was in the 60s probably three times, and probably four or five times in the 50s. Pretty soon around Lincoln it was no big deal. If Dantley didn’t score 50, he had a bad game.
Newton: We were in Lincoln County the night he broke the state [career] scoring record.
Wood: I think we had three games left, and I knew he was close and he was aware of it. But he never made a big deal about it.
Hannig: It was standing room only. We have a pretty small gym, and it was packed. People were sitting on the floor, people were standing up. He was 51 points away, and everybody knew he was getting it. It was rare if he didn’t get 50.
Newton: The night Dantley broke the record, he was on fire. We were running two or three defenders at him, and [our players] would come back with that puzzled look on their faces. The kids are just looking at me like, “Coach, what the heck can we do?”
Justin Yamzon [then-guard at Lake Mead Christian Academy]: It was really just a matter of trying to slow him down. We knew every night Dantley was going to have a good night, so it was hopefully about containing him. We wanted the players around him to beat us, rather than him beating us by himself—which is something he did to teams routinely.
Newton: We tried to bump him, we tried to get physical with him—if we sagged off him, he’d kill it from anywhere within 28, 29 feet.
Yamzon: Depending on which guy we put on him, he always had something in his bag. You had to pick him up at half-court, because he had range from anywhere. He would go on these little spurts of scoring, and it would happen fast. It wasn’t a violent killing, and it almost went unnoticed because it happened a lot. But it would add up.
Newton: He went for 64 points [that night]. It was crazy. Dantley had enough 3-pointers to get in the state record book—he had nine in that game. Justin had 13 that night, or else Dantley would have that record, too! It was one of the most amazing games. One for the ages.
The folks at the NIAA [Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association] came in and they busted my chops. “Oh, you’re the team he scored 64 on when he got the record. I thought you boys at Lake Mead played a little defense?” I don’t know what to say—the kid can put the ball in the hole.
Hannig: So he broke the record and the game was stopped, and they announced it over the speakers. He’s super humble, but you could tell he was happy he had it.
I think those records mean a lot to Dantley. It’s just something he can look back on that shows he’s gotten the rewards for all the hard work he’s put in. I’ve never met anyone who put in the work as much as Dantley.
Cameron: Dantley was the first kid to have his number retired at Lincoln County High School.
Eventually, Dantley’s stellar play would draw the attention of college coaches. He began playing AAU basketball in an effort to increase his visibility and attract more scholarship offers.
Walker: Right after his freshman year after we won state, we said, “We’ve got to get this kid out of Lincoln and see how he does against legit players.”
Wood: I was trying to get him to go to Bishop Gorman, trying to get him to transfer, because there were really no challenges for him [at Lincoln County]. But we could never get that to happen.
Walker: We found out the best AAU team in Vegas is the Las Vegas Prospects, and so [Wood] made a call, and they said they’d give him a tryout even though their roster was pretty much set. I could tell the guy was like, “Yeah, we’ll let him try out, but he won’t make it.”
Anthony Brown [founder and coach of the AAU Las Vegas Prospects]: The first time I ever saw him was when he drove up to practice. Honestly, you see this white kid with freckles, and you’re like, “How good a player can he really be?”
Walker: At the tryout they were working on breaking a press, and they kept having Dantley try to break the press. They could never stop him.
Brown: You could tell the kid was a gym rat. We ran our drills and stuff, and he was totally fine. You could see he was competitive.
Walker: So he made the team, and he played pretty much the next three years with the Prospects.
Brown: When I really realized he was a player was our first tournament. We went to Denver, and our starting point guard, Mikey Thompson, was out with a broken foot. Mikey is the starting point guard at Boise State now. So we started Dantley, and in the championship game he scored 20 or 30 points with 10 assists, and he hit the game-winning free throw to win the tournament.
I still remember: It was a tie game and he went to the free-throw line to win the tournament. He missed the first one, and just smiled and winked at me. And he made the second one, and we won. We joked about it, because he never misses—when he misses, you’re like “What’s going on?”
Walker: During his senior year, there was a Utah team that really wanted him, and it was just easier for us to go to St. George than to Vegas, so we switched [AAU teams].
Dwain Schallenberger [coach of the AAU Utah Select]: I became aware of Dantley after he had already been scoring in the 50s regularly for his high school team. Then everyone started talking, saying he was doing it against triangle-and-2’s, box-and-1’s. Everyone was telling me I had to see this kid, so I went up there. You see this little redheaded kid who looks like he could be a skateboarder. You see him in warm-ups and you laugh. There’s no way. And then you see him destroy the players he’s going against. I think he dropped 50.
Walker: He had some crazy games for the Utah Select.
Schallenberger: I don’t know if I’ve seen a more skilled player. Some of the things he did were ridiculous. There was a game up in San Francisco where he had seven 3-pointers in the first half. And he would do that all the time. This is a guy who is capable of shooting from anywhere and scoring from anywhere. But he’s not a selfish player—you see a kid scoring in the 70s, and you’d think he’d be the biggest ball hog in the world, but it’s actually the exact opposite. He had 22 assists in one game. He’s the state’s all-time assists leader for a reason.
Walker: I thought during his freshman and sophomore year that maybe he could go to the next level. I wasn’t sure about Division I because of his size—you know, a little white kid from a little 2A school. But someone called BYU about him.
Dave Rice [then-assistant coach at BYU]: We learned about him by word of mouth, that there was a high school player in Lincoln County who was putting up huge numbers. We were intrigued by the numbers and his ability to score the basketball.
Walker: So Coach Rice called me. He said, “I’ll stay in contact and I’ll be down next season to watch you play.” And he did; he came down, Dantley had a good game and they kept tabs on him clear through his senior year. So BYU was the first college to see him play. That was his junior year.
Rice: It was a cold, snowy December day. I drove from Provo through Cedar City and then to Panaca. The night I was there, he got 60 points. I was obviously impressed. And then I remember there was a storm, so I drove on basically a two-lane highway from Panaca back to Cedar City, with a visibility of about 10 feet in front of me. But it was a tremendous experience, and I was glad I was there.
Walker: There were probably 10 good schools that were watching him from his junior year through his senior year. Utah State was always in there, and then Montana State and Weber State.
Schallenberger: Every school in Utah had been in contact with him.
Walker: UNLV didn’t jump in until probably January of his senior year.
Lon Kruger [then-head coach at UNLV]: I had some video on him, and I loved watching that. And then I had an opportunity to watch him play in person, and I saw his enthusiasm, his energy. And obviously how well he shot the ball.
Walker: Honestly, until UNLV got into it, we thought Utah State was probably where Dantley would end up. Coach Kruger showed up at a Needles game in California to watch him play, and Dantley had a good game. From that point UNLV was pretty interested. I think it was just a couple of weeks after that that they offered.
Wood: I was shocked that UNLV was the first offer. I knew BYU had seen him, and Utah State called a lot. But no one had really come out and offered until Lon.
BYU didn’t seem that interested, which was a surprise. People were afraid to take a chance because there are these small towns everywhere, and there’s always some local legend you hear about. And a D-I school recruiting in Panaca? That’s like you’re reaching a little bit. I mean, I’m a realist—he’s a little kid from a small school, so I can see why the D-I schools didn’t want to give him a shot.
Rice: We were very intrigued with Dantley at BYU, but our scholarship numbers at the time were such that we didn’t have a spot for him. But we thought he was a high-character player, and we thought he had a future in college basketball.
Schallenberger: Weber State was one school that had been recruiting him, and then they decided to go in a different direction. I had a relationship with them, so they let me know they were moving on, and I made that phone call to Dantley. I think that was a pivotal point for him. To be told “no” by a school that definitely should have taken him, that was tough. He was at the gym when I told him, and after that initial disappointment he just went back to shooting. He used it as motivation.
Walker: Dant and I talked one night, and I said, “Would you rather go to Utah State or UNLV? Would you rather go to BYU or UNLV? Because if Utah State or BYU really wanted you, they would have submitted that offer already.” And he just goes, “You know, I want to go to UNLV.” So we called Coach Kruger the next day.
Kruger: I remember everyone felt really good about it. Our staff felt good about having him, and his family was excited. It was just one of those moments that was satisfying.
Less than two months later, Kruger was gone, leaving UNLV for Oklahoma. As a result, Dantley Walker’s future was once again up in the air.
Walker: Dantley was a little stressed, because he was going on his mission in a few months, and I think he was hoping for all that to be settled before he took off.
So all of a sudden UNLV gives the position to Coach Rice, whom Dantley knew way better than any of the other coaches, except Utah State’s.
Wood: I think Rice liked him when he saw him in person his junior year, and he seemed pretty set on keeping his scholarship when he got to UNLV.
Rice: Coach Kruger had spent a lot of time recruiting him, evaluating him. He had offered him a scholarship, and Dantley had committed to Coach Kruger. So he was committed to UNLV when I got the job, and I thought it was important for me to honor that commitment.
Walker: So Rice calls him and says, “You’re good; we still want you.” And he says, “The great thing about being head coach, I don’t have to walk down the hall and ask Coach [Dave] Rose. It’s up to me now. I can finally give you that scholarship I always wanted to give you when I was at BYU.”
If someone else had gotten the UNLV job instead, I don’t know if they would’ve wanted Dantley. But it worked out that Coach Rice knew him and liked him.
While his statistics were staggering, Dantley’s local legacy was built the old-fashioned way—through word of mouth, with Nevada basketball die-hards trading tall tales about the small-town kid who couldn’t be defended.
Walker: After he originally committed to Kruger, Kruger says, “That’s great, do you want me to announce it to the papers? Because it will go everywhere. The papers will go crazy.” He told us if we announced it, we’d have everybody there watching Dantley for the playoff game. And we figured that would be fine; he’d played under pressure plenty of times. So Lon let everybody know, and we played Agassi Prep for his last [high school] game, and that gym was packed. It was in Vegas, and it was full on both sides. There were a lot of people who just came to check out the recruit.
Wood: He had just committed to UNLV, so there were probably 200 or 300 Rebels fans there. The gym was stuffed. He scored 56, and that was with the flu. He was throwing up at halftime, and they beat the shit out of him physically. They took him down by the throat on a layup, and I almost got tossed right there.
He scored our first 24 points, though.
Walker: He put on a pretty good show. He scored 56 points, so even though we lost, those UNLV fans left thinking this kid is pretty legit.
Schallenberger: In Southern Utah he has a really big following. People from St. George started driving the three hours up to watch Dantley. He kind of became this myth, this legend, like, “Is it really real? This kid who’s not super tall, just a small-town kid scoring these crazy amounts of points, owning every state record?”
Wink Adams [former UNLV point guard]: My mother-in-law has a co-worker from [Panaca], and she told her, “Hey, we’ve got a player in town, he’s a big fan of Wink; he wants to know if Wink wants to go to one of his games.” I said I’d go because I love watching basketball. So I went to a game, and it was completely amazing. He was shooting from half-court. I became a fan that day. After the game we stepped out and talked, and since then that’s been my man.
Cameron: Panaca is a sports-minded community—not just in basketball, but everything. The whole town rallies around its sports programs. And I’ve never seen anybody else like Dantley come through Lincoln County High School. This town will never forget him.
Walker: All four years he was All-State. His senior year, the [Las Vegas] Review-Journal gave him the Player of the Year award for small schools. I think Shabazz Muhammad got it for 4A, and Dantley got it for 3A on down. And he came to me and said, “Is there any chance I can get All-American?” And I said, “I doubt it; we’re out here in Nevada, and we’re so small that nobody is going to take you seriously in the rest of the country.” And I swear it was two days later he came in and said, “Hey, they just called me. I’m a Parade first-team All-American.”
Adams: He was a pretty big name in Nevada because he had a couple of games where he scored 70. A lot of people were really high on him, and he was getting a lot of attention. He would ask my advice. I just told him to do the best you can and have fun with it. Everything will work out. Just enjoy being a basketball player.
Schallenberger: The thing people don’t see is the work ethic. His dad will tell you he finishes every workout with 100 made 3s. He regularly put in six or seven hours a day. In Panaca, there’s really nothing else to do, but he spent that time in the gym.
Wood: People think I go overboard on this kid, and maybe I do, but that’s how much I believe in him. I saw him every day for four years. I’ve seen him do shit that would blow your mind and win games we had no business winning. I’ve watched Nevada basketball for 30 years and seen all the best players, and I think as far as guards, he’s the best I’ve ever seen.
Rice: When I introduced him at our basketball camp this summer, part of the intro that I gave was that he’s the all-time leader in scoring and assists in the state of Nevada. With all the great players who have played here, he’s No. 1 in both categories, so our guys have a lot of respect for that. And the other important thing is that our guys cheer for him to have success. When he shoots one in workouts, they pull very hard for Dantley. They very much like Dantley Walker as a person.
Adams: His family keeps in touch with my wife and my mother-in-law. One Fourth of July I went up there and played in a 3-on-3 tournament with him and his uncle. He’s part of my family now.
Schallenberger: When you have a small-town kid who has done what he has done, that’s just a story people want to follow. I would not be surprised to see busloads of people coming from Panaca to see him this year.
Hannig: He was just unbelievable to watch. Even after I graduated, I went to every home game just because I loved watching him play.
Adams: I never did recruit him—I never tried to make him come to UNLV, because I knew a lot of schools wanted him. Every time he talked to me, he’d be like, “Man, you and Kevin [Kruger], that Sweet 16 year [in 2007], that’s why I’d love to be a Rebel.”
Newton: The last time we played [against] him, I told him it was an amazing opportunity to see him play and grow, and I wished him nothing but the best. His statistics speak for themselves. … And his teams won state championships as well. What more can you say?
Adams: I really cherish my UNLV letterman’s jacket. When I got it, it was like I had bragging rights. I took it back home to Houston, and it really meant a lot to me. When Dantley signed [with UNLV], he was so happy. And I gave him my letterman’s jacket. He lit up. It was a good feeling for me, because it was kind of like the first thing he got from UNLV. I just wanted to show him that I appreciated him as a person. He’s really a great kid.
Rice: It’s a great story. He’s a little bit of an underdog, but he’s a popular underdog.
Adams: Here’s a guy who’s local, who not only can score but who knows the game. He knows when to make the play, how to control the offense. Once he gets out there and shows what he can do, a lot of people are going to fall in love with him.
Wood: And I’ll tell you, this will happen: He’ll come into the Thomas & Mack and he’ll hit eight 3s in a half one night. The crowd is going to love him. He can do that.
A former UNLV point guard, Adams became a mentor and friend to Dantley Walker. He’s currently an assistant coach at Desert Pines High School.
Brown founded the Las Vegas Prospects in 2003, and since then he’s coached more than 50 players who have gone on to play college basketball. Walker played for the Prospects for three years.
Cameron served as the athletic director during Walker’s years at Lincoln County High School. He’s now the head boys basketball coach.
A teammate of Walker’s at Lincoln County, Hannig was a key contributor on the 2007-08 team that won the state championship.
Kruger was the head coach at UNLV from 2004-11 and recruited Dantley. He’s currently the head coach at Oklahoma.
Newton has been the head boys basketball coach at Lake Mead Christian Academy for more than 20 years, and he’s been named Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Coach of the Year four times.
Rice was an assistant coach at BYU during Walker’s recruitment. He’s currently the head coach at UNLV.
A former point guard at Montana, Schallenberger is the head coach of the Utah Select, one of Walker’s AAU teams.
Dantley’s father was an accomplished high school basketball player and served as an assistant coach at Lincoln County High during his son’s years at the school.
Wood was the head boys basketball coach at Lincoln County from 2005-11 and coached all of Walker’s high school games.
Yamzon matched up against Walker many times during his days as a guard at Lake Mead Christian Academy. He’s currently playing at BYU-Hawaii.