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Ex-Susquehannock athlete Jarace Walker and IMG Academy lost to Poly Tech, but the sophomore showed the crowd why he's a highly sought after recruit. York Dispatch

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BALTIMORE — Jarace Walker led the reigning national champion IMG Academy team out of the locker room, was the last player introduced before the game and initiated its offense for most of the contest on Saturday night.

The former Susquehannock Middle School athlete is also just a sophomore in high school.

Walker and his IMG teammates know before each game that they present an opportunity for their opponents to make headlines. After all, a win over IMG, ranked No. 9 in the nation by ESPN, is big news.

Walker and IMG gave Poly Tech that chance Saturday night, when Poly pulled off a 62-60 victory at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Event Center. The loss was the defending champions’ sixth of the season.

“It’s definitely tough because we know, since we’re the defending national champs, they’re going to give us their best,” Walker said. “Knowing that, we just gotta come out better, come out harder and play more together.”

Battling nerves: The 6-foot, 6-inch, 220-pound standout sophomore had eight points for IMG and added in a mix of rebounds and assists while playing stout defense.

The teen from New Freedom said he normally battles nerves ahead of games, but the fact that he was an hour from his hometown and playing at a venue that holds more than 4,500 fans added to the tension. 

Not even his pregame ritual of eating a handful of Haribo gummy bears during warmups could calm him down.

“There’s always nerves before the game,” Walker said. “Big environment, big crowd. Once the tip-off starts, all that goes away and I just start hooping.” 

Big dunk: One thing that helped Walker calm down was the thunderous dunk he threw down in the first half. Walker caught a pass on the perimeter, made a move past his defender and took flight before he slammed a one-handed dunk.

“It definitely gets me going,” Walker said of his highlight-reel slam. “Especially if I’m not playing too well. Dunks always help the team and myself.” 

A bright future: Walker is currently rated the No. 10 prospect in the 2022 class by ESPN and listed as a five-star recruit. 

According to 247Sports, Kentucky, Maryland, Villanova and Georgetown are among the eight colleges with interest in the sophomore. Georgetown coach and New York Knicks legend Patrick Ewing was in attendance at the event.

While his return to the area was spoiled by a loss, Walker was grateful that family, friends and former teammates made the trip to see him play. He didn’t know how many people came to watch him play, but he received a number of text messages before the game.

“It was great to be in Baltimore. (It was) a great environment,” Walker said. “It’s nice just seeing my family, my classmates and people traveling to come see me from the area. It’s really nice.” 

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.

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