Back in his home ground, Tyson Walker is “back to his old self”


Sarah Smith

Tyson Walker during Michigan State’s Sweet Sixteen press conference on March 22, 2023. Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

A.J. Evans, Sports Editorial Assistant

NEW YORK CITY – On Tuesday night, Tom Izzo received a delivery.

The boxes of a New York City staple, Denino’s pizza, quietly arrived at Michigan State’s team dinner, in the hands of New York native Tyson Walker. 

Walker’s delivery fulfilled an ongoing joke of the guard buying Izzo a “New York slice” upon the team’s arrival to the city. The exchange was caught on camera, and quickly went viral within MSU circles. 

“He got me my pizza last night, and I’m looking for the cab ride today,” said Izzo. 

On Thursday, Michigan State (21-12, 11-8) will take on Kansas State (25-9, 11-7) to open the slate of games in the Sweet Sixteen in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. 

Walker, who hails from Westbury, New York isn’t a prototypical New York City guard. And this isn’t a grand homecoming for a guy that was billed as the city’s next great guard the way Stephon Marbury, Kemba Walker and Cole Anthony were. 

“I didn’t model my game after anybody. I kinda just played. Watched my brother going up, so I kinda played like him,” said Walker. “You do have a swagger, just a different type of swag about playing out here.” 

Tyson Walker shoots the ball during Michigan State’s practice on March 22, 2023 ahead of the Spartans’ Sweet Sixteen matchup against Kansas State. Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM (Sarah Smith)

Walker’s return to New York is the culmination of a player who has evolved into one of the best guards in college basketball, and whose dominance has propelled an MSU team to its first Sweet Sixteen in four years, in the city he calls home. 

After transitioning into high-major college basketball last season, Walker has emerged as the undisputed leader for MSU’s offense this year, leading the team in scoring with 14.8 points per game and setting the tone on both ends of the floor. 

“He’s the best two-way player I’ve had since Gary (Harris), where he can do it on both ends,” said Izzo. “That’s so valuable to a team, and so good to be able to tell other scorers that he can get you 30 on some nights and guard other players.”

Walker’s emergence was never centered around becoming a different player, or taking things to another level; it was about becoming the player he had always been at the highest level of college basketball after transferring from Northeastern University. 

“The transition definitely started off rough,” said Walker. “The beginning of the season last year I was kind of struggling. I kind of figured it out as the season went on. And now, you know, I’m just getting back to my old self.”

In addition to being MSU’s leading scorer, Walker is shooting over 40% from the three-point line this season, and 46.7% from the field, all while doubling his shot attempts from last season. Walker is currently 12 points away from scoring 500 total points on the year. 

Earlier this season, Walker recorded his 1,000th career collegiate point against Kentucky at the Champions Classic.

Tyson Walker fights through a defender during Michigan State’s double overtime victory over 4th ranked Kentucky on November 15, 2022. Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

“He’s back to his old self,” said teammate AJ Hoggard. “He’s back to Northeastern Tyson, he’s back to the Tyson that I’ve known forever. And now he’s just more comfortable, and he’s got one job out there: make shots and score the ball.” 

That scoring was on full display in MSU’s last game where Walker torched Marquette’s defense scoring 23 points and shooting 8-17 from the field. 

Walker’s performance against Marquette encapsulated his role this season. In the last seven minutes, the guard scored 12 points, lifting the Spartans to victory and sending them to the next round of the tournament. 

“He’s not from the heart of the city, but he does have that swagger about him,” said Izzo. “He’s got enough cockiness to be confident, yet he’s an unbelievable kid. At his size he wants to guard you, but he also wants to take big shots.” 

As MSU inches closer to its eleventh Final Four appearance in school history, the Spartans will look for Walker to be the player he’s been all season, in the city that raised him and on arguably the biggest stage in basketball. 

“This year the stage is even bigger, because it’s Madison Square Garden, it is his home ground, and it is the Sweet Sixteen,” said Izzo.