When it comes to college sports, Michigan is undeniably a state divided.

So you would think that Ta’Shia Walker, an East Lansing native, might be a little uncomfortable about sporting a Maize and Blue jersey in her hometown tonight, right?

Not exactly.

“I was always that kid in the class who had black on when everybody had on green or maize,” Walker said.

Despite living in Spartan territory for her entire life, Walker never took sides — not even when playing a game designed to make her do just that. When she was a child, Walker’s friends would chant ‘Michigan. State.’ and then point their thumbs up when saying the name of the school they loved and down when saying the name of the school they hated.

Walker didn’t understand this game, either.

“I was just like, ‘Who cares?’ ” Walker said.

While Walker doesn’t fully appreciate the intensity of the intrastate rivalry, tonight’s game does hold special significance for her. Walker expects “a couple hundred” of her family members, friends and former schoolmates to be at the Breslin Center for the game. She says she knows almost all of the Spartan players, having competed with most of them on her AAU team in high school.

Walker is excited to face so many of her former teammates.

“It adds a little fuel to the fire,” Walker said. “I want to go out and play well.”

That’s just what she did the last time Michigan (1-13 Big Ten, 5-20 overall) took on the sixth-ranked Spartans. Walker notched 15 points and grabbed six rebounds in the Wolverines’ 10-point loss to Michigan State on Jan. 2. That performance came in the middle of an eight-game stretch in which Walker scored in double figures every night. Since then, she has recorded more than 10 points just twice. In order to compete with Michigan State — which has four players averaging in double figures — Michigan will need a strong offensive performance from Walker.

That game also came before the Spartans upset then-No. 3 Ohio State last week. In two games this season, the Buckeyes proved to be tough opponents for Michigan, beating it by an average of 31 points. Under the circumstances, it would be logical to assume that the Wolverines would be intimidated to face Michigan State.

But that’s the last thing Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett expects to see from her team. Burnett understands that playing against a rival can change the way a team approaches a game — especially in this case, when five of the eight players in her regular rotation are from the state of Michigan. But Burnett is confident that her team will be able to put those concerns out of its collective mind and focus on the game.

Despite her excitement about playing in front of her friends, Walker echoes the team-first sentiment of her coach.

“I’m not out for my own accolades of course,” Walker said. “No matter what I do, if my team doesn’t come out with a ‘W,’ it’s pointless.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.