Have you ever thought about the training and dedication that goes into becoming a Division I College Basketball player? In the book, Walk-On Warrior: Drive, Discipline, and the Will to Win, John Willkom talks about his experiences and the hard work he endured to earn a spot on Marquette’s men’s basketball team as a walk-on and the connections and opportunities he gained from that time.
Walk-On Warrior is a book that was 14 years in the making, since he was in high school back in 2003, Willkom had been journaling and writing down different experiences he had encountered. This was a way for him to always remember things and to share with his children someday. The more experiences, the more he would write down to remember. Willkom calls his book his “Passion Project.”
From Marshfield, Wisconsin, a rural city of only 18,000 people, Willkom grew up being a Marquette basketball fan and Milwaukee Bucks fan being they were so close to home for him. Also, his father had attended Marquette and was in school there when they won their only championship in 1977. Since he was young, Willkom had a love for Marquette and basketball from watching it on tv, he played for AAU teams and then Marshfield high school.
His senior year of high school, he earned himself a Division II scholarship from the University of Minnesota-Crookston, along with several Division II scholarships as well. He had a choice of going to a Division I school and not playing basketball or going to a Division II and playing. It was a reality check for him, but also gave him the opportunity to still continue to play basketball post high school. “I was a good player, not great, but good enough for a full scholarship,” said Willkom. After playing one year, he decided to transfer. “I was in a very rural environment, even smaller town than the one I had grown up in,” he stated. Willkom appreciated playing a lot at Minnesota-Crookston, he has no regrets from his time there.
Willkom transferred to Marquette University his sophomore year, it had always been his dream school. When he got to Marquette, he figured he would try his best to become a manager for the schools men’s basketball team. He attended basketball camps and shoot arounds, this made him familiar with some of the players that were on the team. While shooting around with players from the team, a player encouraged him to try out for the team as a walk-on. Willkom worked extra hard for the next couple of weeks to get into the best shape he could and become an even better player. Head coach, Todd Crean, welcomed him onto the team that year. Crean had outlined what it would be like, what his role would be on the team, and how he was going to coach him just like everyone else.
In Walk-On Warrior, Willkom goes into raw detail about what he had to go through to earn his spot on the Marquette basketball team. In his book, he talks about his time with the team, the time he had being a student-athlete and how it was basically a full time job, being non-stop from 6 o’clock in the morning up until 9 o’clock at night.
Willkom met a number of notable people in his one year of playing for Marquette. He played alongside Steve Novak and Travis Diener, both who went on to become NBA players. He still keeps in contact today with a few of his former teammates to this day. “There was a great bond between the team and we will always be connected because of the experiences we shared,” said Willkom. Another notable person Willkom met was former Utah men’s basketball head coach, Rick Majerus. Willkom had the opportunity to become his assistant after college, doing a lot of side work and basically just being his right hand man. Majerus was a former student of Marquette from the 1970’s, he would sit in on their practices and he took an interest in Willkom. Majerus always gave Willkom the view point as a coach, they had a special relationship, according to Willkom.
After a year of playing at Marquette, and having played two years of college basketball, Willkom decided to hang up his jersey and go into coaching. His junior year he became a Varsity Assistant Basketball Coach at a high school down the road from Marquette.
Willkom had learned a lot from over the years of not only being a player but also as coach. No matter the job he had, he was always learning from different people. He met a lot of different people in a lot of different places. He landed his first job out of school in Salt Lake City, from there he landed a job in Southern California, then in Chicago, and Milwaukee. He currently lives and works in Oregon. He uses all of those skills that he’s earned and uses them in his current job today. He currently works as a Director of an ecommerce company, with 14 people under him.
According to Willkom, Marquette today is definitely different than it was while he attended school there. He talked about their new coach putting his own footprints on the program, but despite any changes, the team always has had a passionate fan base amongst them.
Walk-On Warrior gives readers an inside look of John Willkom’s experiences he had in his life and while he was apart of the Marquette University Men’s Basketball team. The book is how he felt as a student athlete. “Everyone says the same thing usually, and it’s boring. This gives readers an inside look of what was really happening as a student athlete, respectfully,” said Willkom. He explains that putting together the book took a lot of trial and error, but he worked with an A-team to put it together and it took lots of work. The book was published September 2018, Willkom said it definitely gave him more confidence.
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