T.J. Walker Sr., head coach of Ceres High School's junior-varsity boys basketball team last winter, passed away on Sept. 1 due to complications from pancreatic cancer.
Walker was 58 years old.
His family held a celebration-of-life service last Friday at Excel Academy in Stockton.
"It's certainly a tremendous loss," said Tracy Bull, head coach of the Bulldogs' freshman boys basketball team in 2012-13. "He was happy, energetic and well-liked. I respect everything he's accomplished as a coach and mentor. You got to be impressed. He's done a lot for basketball in the Valley for the last 20-plus years. He left behind a pretty good legacy."
Walker directed Ceres High's JV boys hoops squad to a 20-6 overall record and runner-up finish in the Western Athletic Conference (10-2). The Bulldogs beat the crosstown-rival Central Valley Hawks twice.
T.J. also coached with the Modesto High, Grace Davis, Big Valley Christian, Slam 'N Jam and Modesto Magic basketball programs.
Walker deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as other longtime local basketball gurus Phil de la Porte (Ceres High), Dan Pacheco (Grace Davis), Gary Porter (Modesto Christian) and Bobby Cole (Slam 'N Jam) according to Bull.
"You're always shocked when you hear someone passes away," said Brian de la Porte, former Ceres High and current Patterson varsity boys basketball head coach. "I went to the service. I visited him and his wife in the hospital for two hours a month ago. He was in really good spirits."
Added Bull: "He was taken away too early. He'll be missed."
Walker's children T.J. Walker Jr. (Modesto High) and Ashley Walker (Grace Davis) developed into star basketball players thanks in large part to his guidance.
Ashley continued her playing career at UC Berkeley, where she left as one of the program's all-time greatest players. She was selected 12th overall in the 2009 WNBA Draft by the Seattle Storm. She's played professionally overseas as well.
T.J. Jr. was a two-time NAIA All-American at Azuza Pacific University. He played six seasons in the British Basketball League.
Walker Jr. was an assistant coach on Brian de la Porte's staff at Ceres High for two seasons. The Bulldogs compiled a 17-9 record, won the Western Athletic Conference crown (8-2) and qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III playoffs during the 2010-11 school year.
"The first time I saw him (T.J. Sr.) was in 1992 when I was 11 years old," said Brian de la Porte, ball boy for the Bulldogs. "He coached against Ceres High. He was Modesto High's assistant coach. I really got to know him over the past four years. He helped me out a lot. He's had a big influence on local basketball. He worked with a lot of kids. He meant a lot to a lot of people. It's a big loss."