NJIT Senior Reilly Walsh Rises Above Challenges to Succeed in the Classroom and on the Court

Growing up in Staten Island, New York, Reilly Walsh played a number of sports whether it was baseball, swimming, soccer and track and field.  By the time Walsh reached St. Peter’s Boys High School, where his father (John Walsh) attended, and a member of the St. Peter’s 1983 team to ever win the New York City CHSAA AA City Championship, Walsh played baseball his freshman year.  However, the following year Walsh turned his focus to basketball.

“I knew basketball is what I loved the most and would be successful at by putting in the time and work in, where I wanted to be and focused on the best play I can be,” said Reilly Walsh.  “My Dad gave me my first basketball on my first birthday and playing literally since I could walk.  My Dad going there and my Mom went to the St. Peter’s Girls High School, I basically knew from the moment I was born that I would be going there.”

In his senior season, Walsh put up impressive numbers, averaging 25 points per game, knocking 109 three-pointers, eclipsing the 30-point mark nine times and 40-point mark twice.  Playing for head coach Charlie Driscoll, Walsh totaled 751 points in his final season.  The crowning achievement for Walsh was playing with his brother Dylan and winning a championship.

“Senior year will always hold a special place in my heart,” Reilly Walsh said.  “Coach Driscoll I have known my whole life, seeing him when I was growing up and having a winning championship team after championship team and I said I can’t wait to play for him one day and to play for him for three years was amazing.  He really let me be my myself, helping me develop as a player and able to get to the Division I level.”

“I had so much fun play alongside my best friends, my teammates were amazing, not even about scoring but winning and playing with my brother.  The goal of any team is to win a championship and to be able to do that is something I will never forget.  My brother was the MVP of the championship game and played great.   He was a junior at the time and point guard.  Not everyone gets to play basketball with their brother, a point guard and passing me the ball all the time and a different level of connection and chemistry on the court.  My Dad was on the bench for the championship game and to have my Mom (Christine) and sister (Kelin) in the stands.”

Named a Staten Island Advance All-Star and All-Staten Island pick twice by the New York Daily News while earning other prestigious honors and awards, Walsh found the most satisfaction in receiving the Jacques Award.

“I still have that in my room and is awarded to the best player on Staten Island,” said Reilly Walsh.  “It’s an award I have known my whole life, a lot of great players have won and a testament to the work I put in over the years and help people have given to me.  My Dad going down to the gym with me at whatever time, late at night or early in the morning.”

“Being able to go there and have a major impact on the school and community is something I will never forget.  Coach Charlie (Driscoll), Coach Denis(Driscoll) and John Fodera (former principal and current president), I had a great time there and to leave my mark that I will always will have and never left.”

Not only earning achievements on the court, off the hardwood Walsh succeeded in the classroom.  Named the salutatorian of the St. Peter’s High School graduating class.  “My parents instilled in me basketball and school are both important,” Reilly Walsh said.  “Basketball will stop bouncing one day and you better do good in school.  Having that attitude and carrying it through the summer and high school.”

Sharpening up his basketball skills while attending high school, Walsh played on the AAU team, the Staten Island Stingrays.  “My Dad coached for a couple of years, also there was Jay Ziers,” said Reilly Walsh.  “Those games were a lot of fun, played in a couple of competitive tournaments and against future NBA players, Rawle Aikins and Ty Jerome.  We were never one of the greatest teams but we had the underdog mentality and had fun traveling.”

When it came to making a decision to which college he would attend, Walsh visited Columbia University, but it was NJIT that ended up being the first and only choice.  “NJIT recruited me before my senior year, I signed my letter and was my number one from the get go and one of the first schools to recruit me so I had my eyes set on them from day one.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity NJIT was giving me and being one of the first schools to contact and stick with me and coming to all my games whether it was AAU on the East Coast or all my high school games throughout my junior and senior years.”

“Coach (Brian) Kennedy was the one that recruited me out of high school pretty hard and one of the few schools that was recruiting me and he was there wherever I went.  He traveled to watch me all throughout the country and to see his commitment and belief in me and I knew that I didn’t want to be anywhere else because you want someone who believes in you and your game and truly cares about your family.  From the start for him to give me the opportunity to play Division I which obviously was the goal and a dream of mine since I was young.  I’m really thankful for that.”

Visiting NJIT for the first time, Walsh said one of the benefits was the distance from his home in Staten Island only being a half-hour, knowing some of the people in the school and a fellow St. Peter’s Boys High School and NJIT basketball player in Ryan Wood and saying nothing but good things about the school.  “I really liked what I saw on campus, receiving an offer to play there and they really believed in my game,” Reilly Walsh said.  “They told me about all the bright plans for the future, the WEC (Wellness and Events Center) and knew the program was going to go to new levels and be a part of that.”

Limited to six games in his freshman year for the Highlanders, Walsh still managed to enjoy the adrenaline of playing his first collegiate game and for Head Coach, Jim Engles, and Assistant Coach, Brian Kennedy.  “My first year when he (Brian Kennedy) became the head coach it was cool because the guy who recruits you is now the head coach of the team and we had a lot of success under him,” Reilly Walsh said.  “My first game Division I game I checked into I was hurt half the year and against St. John’s.  My family was there and having my name called that game felt pretty surreal and playing against St. John’s, a team I knew growing up was pretty cool.”

“Division I is a super tough level, a lot of good players out there and knew from day one at NJIT, I was going to do everything to work on my game and give me the best chance to play a lot of minutes.  The only way you are going to play for those minutes is if you work for them and show you deserve them.  I say nothing is given to you in life and you have to work for it and how I live and everything I do.  When I was a freshman, we had great leadership on the team and instilled in me the right values and work ethic that you need to be successful.  I’m really grateful I had people like Damon Lynn, Winfield Willis, Tim Coleman, Terrance Smith, Vlad Shustov, Manny Tselentakis, Ky Howard, Rob Ukawaba and Osa Izevbuwa, to show me the ropes from day one.”

In his sophomore year Walsh played in 21 games but it was off the court where Walsh shined.  Named to the ASUN All-Academic Team while becoming the first NJIT player to earn that honor and only selection with a 4.0 G.P.A.  Starting in all 30 games and averaging 5.2 points per game his junior year, Walsh continued to display his academic talent with a unanimous selection on the ASUN All-Academic Team and only selection again with a 4.0 G.P.A.  In addition, named to the ECAC (Eastern College Athletic Conference) Winter/Spring Academic Honor Roll, Division I-AAA Athletics Directors Association Scholar-Athlete Team and National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Honors Court.

Starting off his senior season in grand style, Walsh poured in a career high 21 points against Colgate. However, basketball and academics would become secondary as Walsh dealt with his Mom battling cancer.  “That games was special for many reasons, aside from being a great game it was important for me because my Mom was diagnosed with cancer,” Reilly Walsh said.  “That whole spring and summer being there for her and watching her fight through cancer and chemo treatments.  Seeing that really gave me an extra edge to go out there, play my best and hardest for her that year.”

“Coming out that first game and seeing her in the stands, she was not feeling her best but she made the commitment to be there for me and to play like that for her was something I will never forget and to see her face after the game.”

On the verge of enjoying a breakout season, Walsh would face another serious issue, sustaining a left ankle injury after the third game thus sidelining him for the rest of the season.  “When something like that happens before you get hurt and a season-ending injury, you feel you are conquering one challenge and obstacle and another one always seems to come your way, but that’s life and now where I’m standing really grateful for all these challenges because I’m a better and stronger person today,” said Reilly Walsh.  “My Mom is doing great and is in remission.  It was tough, I’m not going to lie and going down after I was playing some of the best basketball.  It definitely hurt a lot but I knew I wasn’t going to cave and give in.  A long road to recovery, but seeing my Mom fight and mine nothing compared to hers, so I was not wavered by the journey I was facing and not easy.  With the support of NJIT and my family, I was able to come back out there for this past year and awesome.”

Returning for his final season as graduate student, Walsh rebounded by starting in 27 out of 30 games played including a season high 15 points at Lipscomb.  Even with the Highlanders finishing up at 9-21, the last game of the season proved to be a memorable moment in pushing top-seeded to the brink of elimination in the ASUN Tournament Quarterfinals before dropping a 55-49 decision.  For Walsh personally it was about returning from a season injury and playing one final year with his teammates.

“This past season’s record obviously is not how we wanted to perform but after being hurt my senior year to come back and play for Coach Kennedy and my teammates for another year was really something I was grateful for and would have not wanted to spend this this last year with any other program and to be able to come back to NJIT is a testament to the staff in believing in me,” Reilly Walsh said.  “We prided ourselves on that underdog mentality and to bring the fight every night this year and was definitely tough but we had a lot of guys out but we just stuck together.”

“Starting 27 games means a lot, coming in as a young freshman the older guys left a mark on the school.  Seeing them put in the work really showed me in order to get they were and be a starter that everyone obviously wants to do on a level like this.  Something I was striving for and not everyone gets to it was really fun.”

“We had a blend of older and younger guys, the first game of the year I was filled with so much energy and emotion and to be able to get back out there and play the game I love.  Being able to play throughout the season and after five years at NJIT was super emotional.”

Senior Day against Florida Gulf Coast on February 22nd at the Wellness and Events Center proved to be very emotional with Walsh and senior, Shyquan Gibbs, honored before tip-off.  “The last game at NJIT was obviously emotional but I just talked to Shy and tried to play like it was any other game and prepared the same way and trying not to let our emotions get the best of us.  My family and his coming together was emotional.”

“The first two years at Fleisher was great in its own way, a home court advantage when the gym got packed and the underdog mentality of NJIT that this is our gym no matter what it looks like.  Going to the WEC was a major transition and walking into that building is amazing and top notch.  The mentality did not change, a bunch of hard-playing athletes and going from the roots from where the program was to where it can go moving forward.  Me and Shy moving over from the Fleisher Center into the WEC, we had a great appreciation of what it was before and take advantage and be appreciative of what we have.”

“I remember the first game in the WEC against Wagner and all the energy we had was something we had never before with the lights and dream of.  What college basketball is you get the chills playing in arenas and crowds like that and when you walk into a building like that you know it’s legit and helps with the recruiting  advantage.  The support from other NJIT sports teams, NJIT is obviously not a huge school so all the athletes know and support each other.  Some schools are so big you really don’t know the other athletes but at a school like NJIT is family and something I will always remember.”

Walsh on his teammates, “I really can’t say enough about Shyquan, that kid does it right on and off the court, the classroom and family.  He is definitely a role model for student-athletes.  Shy and I played a lot of games and minutes together and obviously will be friends with him for the rest of my life.  A testament to Shy for doing it the right way with training, strength and conditioning and keeping himself in top shape and taking care of his body.  Obviously starting all those games in a row and playing thousands of minutes that takes its toll on your body, but all the stuff he does behind the scenes to make sure he is ready to play every game and shows he cares.  Coach Bobby Fisk really knows what he is doing and me and Shy came in as skinny freshman and left in better shape when we came into college.”

“Souleymane (Diakite) is my roommate this year, a super smart kid and speaks four languages and Mohamed Bendary my roommate for four years.  Zach (Cooks) is a great player, has a bright future ahead for him and super talented on the court.  San Antonio (Brinson), the sky is the limit for that kid and a great basketball player.  I could go through the list but everyone had a hand and role on this team.  We are all close and talk on a daily basis.”

“Obviously we played a great game (Liberty, ASUN Tournament Quarterfinals), tough and fun to play.  You never want to lose and played the best we could and believed in ourselves.  We had nothing to lose, we were going to go out and play loose and for one another and exactly what we did.  Just went back to having fun with the game and we that during the game.  They were the top team and had the pressure.  We had to keep it close towards the end, and in games in March you never know what can happen so that was our goal.  When you get to the conference play, the games get picked up an extra notch and intensity and toughness of the game and importance of every single possession so being able to be part of that is a surreal feeling to be able to experience that.”

“Leading up to the Liberty game we put in the work and practiced hard.  Before the game Coach (Kennedy) told us even if no one believes in us outside of this locker, the people sitting inside here do and all that matters and were the ones going out there playing and all we need to hear.  The underclassmen said they were going to play their hardest because they wanted to do something special for us.  Everyone gave 100 percent effort.”

“Traveling all around the country, I can’t tell you how many states I have been to and those experiences are what mold a team and build relationships and lead over to the court.  That chemistry people have on the court, it’s just not from playing together but all the experiences off the court.  You spend a lot of time with your coaches and teammates and they really become a part of your family to be honest.  You spend more time with them than you do your own family for most of the years and get to know them.”

“Coach Kennedy really builds great relationship with his players which I think gives them the confidence to go out there and play their game.  The coaching staff, (Jeff Rafferty, Kim Waiters, Joe Gutowski, Danny Manuel), really take their time to get to you on and off the court and your family.  Moving forward, I will be able to connect with them and still be in touch with all of them.  Having those relationships means a lot and that’s what really matters.”

“The coaching staff instilled in us we were going to go out and fight and play our hardest every night.  Even if we didn’t come out on top, knowing we gave it our all and we can live with that.  You face obstacles in life and this season is a testament to that and you don’t know what’s going to come your way but be ready to work on any challenges you face.”

“When the final buzzer went off it doesn’t hit you right away.  Honestly it takes a couple of weeks and now it does feel real not to put an NJIT uniform on again and play another game.  The final season was definitely different in a fact it was the last year of college basketball and no matter what happens last year of playing so that gives you can extra drive playing basketball my whole life.  All that training from since I was little and being in the driveway, working on both hands since I was little all the way up to this past season and culmination of that work.  I was able to play in some great games, I accepted what role I was had here and the coaches asked out of me and by doing that play a lot and in some big games and had a pretty good career.”

“To pass that work ethic and values of hard work, commitment and team work and doing right in all aspects of school and life.  To pass it down to the younger guys is obviously cool and be in those shoes as a leader and teach them the ropes.  The program is in great hands with the guys there now, having those values and they will be great.”

Academically, Walsh kept up the high standards of excellence, named not only for the third consecutive year to the ASUN All-Academic Team, but ASUN Scholar Athlete of the Year.  “It definitely means a lot to get that award,” said Reilly Walsh.  “Over the years thankful for my parents instilling in me from a young age on the value of hard work and always give 110 percent of your effort in everything you do.  All the culmination of long nights, my parents said the ball will stop bouncing one day and school is important.”

“I was not able to do it by myself, my family, NJIT, support from student advisors, (Mike Spisto, Mike Sweeney), coaches, teachers and professors all played a hand in it.  Finishing my MBA in Finance and last year an undergraduate degree in MIS (Management Information Systems) Business School.  Being able to balance out school and basketball is tough, but if you really want to do something and care about you will put the effort towards it.  On the road you have to make sure you get your work done on and off the court so it takes a level of focus but communication is a major part with your coaches and academic advisors.  I care about two things, no matter how much effort and time it took I was willing to put that effort and drive towards it.  Just staying organized and time management are two big things you could match to be successful.”

“Time wise traveling, classes, practices, strength and conditioning and going to the training room, and family time is not a lot of free time.  Knowing how to really allocate your time and be efficient in your work on the court and with school work took time to work on.  It’s definitely skills I was able to get pretty good at and those are skills you need for the rest of your life.  Life lessons I have learned from these past five years.”

“To have that graduate degree will mean a lot for me and my family.  Giving me more options moving forward in life and with the times going on right now obviously a tough time for a lot of people and I don’t think anyone would have expected this to happen, so moving forward I’m just taking it one step at a time and spend time with my family.  With Division I basketball you don’t get much time and I’m staying ready both physically and mentally for whatever comes my way after this is over and hope sooner than later.”

“I’m the type of person that likes to keep improving and becoming a better person every day and goal is to keep moving up all the time.  You reach one thing but I’m never satisfied and kind of push the bar a little higher and it just makes me work that harder to reach those goals.”

“It feels like yesterday I was on campus and time really does go by.  Sometimes you don’t step back and realize what is going and you have been through.  Athletic Director Lenny Kaplan has done an amazing job, I have to say thank you to him for allowing me to play, come to NJIT to play basketball and go to school and receive an education and now a graduate degree and grateful for that.”

“I’m grateful for the opportunity NJIT gave me to play Division I basketball, which has been a dream my whole life and receiving an education at the same time.  The last five years I did some great things and moving forward have big plans for the future.  Thank you to everyone who supported me and lent a help hand.  I will never forget the time I spent there and NJIT will always hold a special place in my heart for the rest of my life.”