The community will gather at Trojan Arena on Saturday to celebrate the life of former Hot Springs standout athlete Jadyn "J.J." Walker, who died last week following a shooting on Laser Street.
The visitation, also at the arena, will be held from noon to 1:45 p.m., followed by a celebration of life service at 2 p.m.
Walker, 20, the son of James Walker and Chiquita Carter, was a four-year starting point guard for the Trojans basketball team, graduating from Hot Springs World Class High School in 2021. Though also running track, the Carter/Walker families noted in a statement Tuesday that his passion was basketball.
"That passion landed him on the varsity squad as a freshman in high school," they said. "After graduation, he attended Philander Smith College, where he played on the basketball team and received a basketball scholarship."
Walker helped lead the Panthers to a Gulf Coast Athletic Conference championship win during his freshman campaign.
"He loved to joke around, smile and have fun. He had a heart of gold that touched all who were around him. In true J.J. fashion, he was able to continue to bless others after his passing by saving five lives due to organ donation. We know he would be honored and proud to bless those families," they said.
Hot Springs police have said Walker's death is being investigated as a homicide. No arrests have been made in the case.
Trojans head basketball coach Antoni Lasker, who started coaching him in the eighth grade in AAU basketball, praised his ability to instill confidence in others.
"The plan is to celebrate J.J.'s life," Lasker said Tuesday of Saturday's service. "We all know it's a bad time and, you know, it's horrible what happened. But the young man, in the 20 years he was with us, he did lead a very beneficial and prosperous life. He touched a lot of people in the city. But like I told him at the end of his senior year, he is a true Hot Springs legend."
Not only referring to what he was able to do on a basketball court, Lasker said it extended to what he was able to accomplish in life.
"Signing to a college, going on to college and playing basketball. ... There's a lot of kids that still look up to him to this day, and that'll continue. We'll keep his legacy going," he said.
Among his accolades in basketball were two-time All-State, four-time All-Conference, 2021 Class 5A South Conference Player of the Year, and member of the 2021 All-Tournament Team. On the court, he racked up over 1,000 career points, 350-plus career assists, 150-plus career steals, and 87 total career wins.
After being named The Sentinel-Record's All-Garland County Boys Basketball Player of the Year in April 2021, he told the paper that he hoped to one day return to Hot Springs to coach.
"He provided stability to the team," said Lasker. "Being a point guard, knowing some things that he had to learn early on about how to lead and what it's like to lead guys and get them to follow, you know. How hard you need to play, and how hard you need to practice in order for those things to take place. ... Man, he bought in Day One."
He noted the particular success the team accumulated during Walker's final three years at the helm.
"He did a lot of good things for us. He provided a lot of leadership to a lot of young guys that I think trickled over into our season -- that we actually had this year, because a lot of guys that played with us had just finished out their senior years. I think that leadership he provided in them kind of showed them how to lead, and it was just a trickle-down effect in how hard he worked, the work he put in, and the success he had ... not only his whole career, but especially that senior year.
"You know, Jabari (West) missed like nine out of 14 conference games that year and he missed some other games early on, but J.J. just wheeled us all season. We didn't have the best season record-wise, and we didn't finish where we wanted to his senior year but, you know, he was the guy, and we were only going to go as far as he took us. And he took us to a very, very good place," he said.
The team made it to the state tournament, though losing in the first round to Russellville.
"Unfortunately, we lost in the first round that year, but he averaged like 25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists for us," he said. "And he was just a stable force for us out there on the basketball court. I really think he showed those young guys what it took to be a leader and how hard you need to work to make it to the next level, and so I'm proud of him. And like I told him, he's a legend. He's a legend here for sure."
One way Lasker plans to honor Walker's legacy is by not allowing his No. 5 to be worn again during his tenure.
"He gave Hot Springs everything he had those four years that he played here, even going back to middle school. So I figured that's the least that I can do, was to honor him in that way by just not really having anybody wear that number. I'm not saying it's retired, because it's not. That's not my call. But I can say that as long as I'm coaching here, nobody will wear that number in our program," he said.
Walker's service will be livestreamed on Brandon's Mortuary's Facebook page on Saturday. His burial will follow at Crestview Memorial Park Cemetery.