School policy prevented Mississippi State teams from even competing against black players, which is why MSU's basketball team didn't compete in the NCAA Tournament in 1959, 1961 and 1962 despite winning SEC titles.
In 1963, the civil rights movement was bubbling, coach Babe McCarthy had turned out yet another SEC champion and MSU president Dr. D.W. Colvard convinced the board of regents to allow the team to play in the NCAA Tournament against Loyola-Chicago, which had four black starters.
“We decided, hey man, it's time to try this deal,” Walker told The Oklahoman in 1996.
But a Mississippi legislator thought otherwise. The day before the team was to depart for East Lansing, Mich., an injunction was filed to keep the squad from leaving the state.
People today “can't believe the situation was that acute in 1963,” Walker said. “You have to remember, Starkville was deep, deep South.”
So the trip turned into a clandestine affair. Colvard, McCarthy and Walker met at the rural home of a friend. The injunction would be served to one or all of them, and they were determined to not be found.
Walker sent his pastor for a change of clothes, with orders not to tell Walker's wife, Jean, where he was, so she wouldn't have to lie to authorities.
The team trainer took the team's backup players to the airport the next day, and when they were not detained, an assistant coach brought the starters and all boarded the plane.
Meanwhile, Walker and McCarthy drove to Memphis, caught a flight for Nashville and met the team.
“We made what we thought was a bold stance,” Walker said. “It took a lot of courage, particularly on the president's part. But we did it, and we were proud.”
The team made it to Michigan and lost 61-51 to Loyola, which went on to win the NCAA title. They returned home heroes to a changed Mississippi.
“The general public was with us,” Walker said. “I'm proud I was part of all that stuff. People will say we've got a long way to go, and maybe we do. But what great things have happened.”