Michelle Smith Women’s Basketball Feature: Washington State's Charlisse Leger-Walker
Jan 4, 2021
Charlisse Leger-Walker is moving around Washington State’s campus in Pullman, the crunching sound of icy, old snow under her feet. The frosty ground she walks on is nearly 11,800 miles from her New Zealand home, but somehow, in a very short period of time, it fits.
“The biggest thing for me, as a player, was to come to a team that’s really strong on culture,” Leger-Walker said. “And I wanted a chance to play in the Pac-12, against the best players in the country. That’s what brought me here.”
Leger-Walker could have ended up at another school. She could have turned professional, the offers were there. But the mature freshman with New Zealand national team experience wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to share the floor with her older sister, or test her mettle in the toughest conference in the country.
Leger-Walker is currently the leading scorer in the Pac-12, averaging 19.0 points a game early in the New Year. She is leading a team that was picked to finish at the bottom of the conference standings, but sits at 4-1 in Pac-12 play, with only a narrow loss to Oregon as a blemish. She has been chosen as the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week three times in the last four weeks.
“It’s never been spoken, but since day one, it’s very obvious that she’s the best player in the gym,” head coach Kamie Ethridge said. “Now it’s a matter of putting her in a position to get more shots. I think she understands what’s needed from her for the team to succeed. I’ve not been in the gym with someone who understands the game the way she does.”
Leger-Walker has scored in double figures in every one of her collegiate games so far. She has four games of at least 20 points, including a 29-point, eight-rebound, five-assist performance against Idaho on December 13. She also leads the conference in steals at 3.3 per game, finding other ways to impact the game.
“When shots aren’t dropping, I don’t think about it much, I’m not worried,” Leger-Walker said. “I know that as a scorer, I just need to keep putting up shots and if they aren’t dropping, I will find other ways to make an impact. I never worry about how much I am scoring.”
Leger-Walker knows that given her early-season performances, she is going to surprise no one going forward. She can already see the difference in the way teams are defending her.
“We have other weapons,” Leger-Walker said. “We need to make people think about those too.”
Leger-Walker’s older sister Krystal is a fifth-year senior on the Cougars' roster, transferring from Northern Colorado, where she played for Ethridge before the coach came to Washington State. Charlisse, the youngest player ever to play for the New Zealand national team, has known Ethridge since her sister went through the recruiting process. She wanted the opportunity to play alongside her sister, and to be a part of something from the ground up.
“I wanted to be part of a program that values toughness and accountability and competitiveness,” Leger-Walker said. “We don’t think we are better than anyone. We are just trying to compete. And we play for each other.”
Ethridge said that Leger-Walker wanted the challenge of playing at the highest level and so far she’s meeting it.
“She’s older than her chronological age, she has great maturity and presence,” Ethridge said. “In some ways, I think she looks like she isn’t as good as she is, they don’t think she is as quick as she is, as skilled as she is, but I knew way better than that.
“She’s every bit as athletic as a lot of other players, but not in the big American way. New Zealanders don’t play with a lot of bravado. She doesn’t come across as a really emotional player, but she can manage any situation. And she’s not afraid. She will put up shots, take a game-winner, make a pass to a wide-open person, like she did against Oregon. She carries herself like a star.”