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Ohio State women’s basketball forward Eboni Walker finds peace 13,000 feet off the ground

How degree requirements and graduate school pressures fell from the sky for the Buckeye super senior.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Ohio Photo by Jay LaPrete/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

There are high pressure moments in the life of college basketball players. After practicing, strategizing and listening to coaches, everything comes down to putting all the talk and preparation into practice. It all goes into the moment where seconds matter. When the heart is racing and eyes shift to look at you. How will the athlete perform?

For Ohio State women’s basketball forward Eboni Walker, this isn’t the precursor to an NCAA March Madness game. It’s the final moments before the graduate senior did something that, for many, is unthinkable: When she jumped out of a plane.

Fulfilling Requirements

Walker’s taken many leaps in her college basketball career. After Gatorade named the forward the 2019 Nevada Player of the Year, Walker moved out of state to join the Arizona State Sun Devils. Following two seasons and a soon-to-be coaching change, Walker moved to the other side of the country and into a tumultuous Syracuse University team that soon after lost its head coach for allegations of mistreatment and bullying.

The forward stuck with the team, ultimately suffered an injury that made Walker unavailable for the remainder of the 2021-22 season. That’s when the aspiring mechanical engineer transferred to Ohio State.

Somewhere along the way, all of Walker’s college credits went into a Communications degree. When the Las Vegas, Nevada native came to Columbus, a single Spanish class was all she needed to graduate, but there was a problem: She needed to take more classes to fulfill her scholarship.

“What do you mean? I have nothing else to take,” recalled Walker when she spoke with her advisor. The aspiring engineer had a solution. “I didn’t want to pick something where I had to use my brain. I wanted to have fun.”

Walker held to her word. The forward enrolled in kitchen sciences, a chocolate course and a beer and wine class. During a summer practice, Walker proudly told head coach Kevin McGuff she was heading home after practice to drink some beer, which wasn’t nearly as fulfilling once Walker completed the assignment.

“I took one little swig and I was so upset, having to drink it,” said Walker. “It just tasted terrible to me.”

Drinking beer and making and eating homemade chocolate sounds like most folks ideal weekend, but for Walker, who also doesn’t like sweets, its different. Each choice is a smaller example of the mindset of the 21-year-old. Walker’s someone who’s always up for a challenge. The final class for Walker exemplified that the best when she signed up for skydiving.

It wasn’t simply all for fun. It’s been a stressful road for Walker, who despite graduating this summer with a Communications degree is still pursuing her dream of becoming a mechanical engineer.

“Instead of me getting upset, let me try to have fun because I feel this is my time to break because I’m really going to jump back into it in my next section of studies,” said Walker. “I might be certified in chocolate making by the end of my college career.”

Farewell Party

Starting in 2020, Ohio State started a skydiving course where, following a handful of classroom sessions, the students fly into the sky and jump from 13,000 feet above the ground. Even talking about the idea of skydiving elicits a multitude of responses, normally questions of sanity. Walker’s experience was no different when she let people know it was a sure thing.

In the halls of the Ohio State Athletic Department, it began with a member of the Buckeyes’ support staff telling Walker she didn’t think she’d be allowed to jump. Walker quickly told her it was happening. The first coach Walker ran into was assistant coach Carla Morrow.

Coach Morrow initiated conversation, letting Walker know she heard something about the forward. Walker kept her secret close and wondered what the coach was going to say, ultimately bringing up something about basketball. Walker let her in on the real news.

“‘Yeah, so, I’m going skydiving.’ She was like ‘Eboni, no you’re not,’” said Walker.

Guard Jacy Sheldon, who Walker connected with in the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the game-winning assist, wasn’t connecting to the idea of her teammate skydiving.

“I told her she was crazy,” said Sheldon, laughing. “But I think it was really cool.”

The one person who could still put the kabash on the entire idea was head coach Kevin McGuff. After all, the stories of athlete’s extracurricular activities resulting in injury are well-documented. Was he going to risk his starting forward for the Buckeyes’ Elite Eight stretch run take that chance?

“‘No, that’s great! I went skydiving!’ I said ‘what!?’ recalled Walker about McGuff’s response to the announcement.

“It was pretty cool. I was, at the time, living in Oxford, Ohio,” said McGuff about his skydiving experience. “I did what we call a static line where the parachute is attached to the line and attached to the plane. It was a cool experience. I don’t have to do it again but I was glad I did it once.”

McGuff’s support was huge for the senior who played for three coaches on two teams before coming to Ohio State. As practice continued in the week following the announcement, McGuff even joked with the team, saying they were having a “farewell party” for Walker the day before.

“He was more excited than I was,” said Walker. “That’s the little things that I try to tell people about Ohio State. He was encouraging me to jump out of the sky. Not ‘no you’re going to fall and injure yourself. That’s an experience you want to encourage people to do. Especially after I’ve been through it I want to encourage people to do it.’”

The mixed reactions Walker received within her team, the one person who wasn’t surprised at all was her mom, who found out from multiple people calling her to see if Walker was serious about the upcoming jump.

On a family trip to Hawaii, when Walker wasn’t yet 10-years-old, the future basketball star from Las Vegas was up for any challenge. On a zipline, the instructor challenged Walker to go backwards, then backwards and upside down. No matter what he said, Walker followed suit.

“‘I should have known after seeing you do that that you’d jump out of the sky,’” said Walker about her mom’s reaction.


In Walker’s young life, she’s continually stepped up to challenges. When joining the Buckeyes, it was almost two years since the forward played basketball consistently. After injury and declining conditioning, Walker worked throughout the entire 22-23 season and stepped in when needed.

Following an injury to forward Rebeka Mikulášiková on Feb. 8, against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Walker got back into the starting rotation for the first time since Jan. 24, 2021, as a Sun Devil.

Walker started the stretch with a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double in a defeat to the Indiana Hoosiers. On March 25, in the last second win over the North Carolina Tar Heels, Walker scored a season high 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Performances showed her fight but basketball only scratches the surface of the person that is Eboni Walker.

Ohio State v Connecticut Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

“If you expect anyone to do the craziest thing, while trying to play basketball, and be like an athlete and get my work done and try and get these good grades, know that I’m going to drive a monster truck on the weekend,” said Walker. “I might jump out of the sky. I need to find that balance in life.”

Nothing represents it better than Walker’s tattoo that, ironically, says “Temporary.”

“Life is too short to try to be too serious about certain things,” said Walker. “Everyone knows at Ohio State, we have fun all the time. And because we have fun and because we care about each other more than just ‘that’s my teammate.’ That’s my family. That’s my sister. It translates onto the court. I feel like that goes with everything in life.”

It’s that attitude that Walker brought to her skydiving course. Walker reinforced what she already knew from basketball that if you practice to do the right things, your actions will follow. Also, important reminders like the parachute wants to work and its only really five seconds of falling before the parachute cord is pulled. The class went well, until the final session.

That’s when someone, who Walker can’t remember, possibly out of resentment, brought up all the things that could go wrong. It meant watching videos of people falling too close to the ground, and the normally cool under pressure Walker began to feel the nerves.

Those feelings subsided, even up to the day of the jump. Walker, a natural leader, went from the student to the the one her classmates looked to for guidance and reassurance. As her former Buckeyes all asked her if she was nervous, the athlete’s motivational response until the jump was consistent “just pull it.”

What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Instructor Bud Prenatt, who’s taught skydiving for 21 years, put Walker in the front of the plane and was going to jump with the graduate senior. Walker thinks its because she was Prenatt’s favorite.

As his favorite sat near the pilot, Walker’s nerves were still in check as she watched the altimeter read off how far the plane was off the ground. Walker saw a 1.3, and looked down, thinking that it wasn’t too bad of a jump. Then the plane kept climbing and climbing. And climbing.

“I was like, wait a minute. I read 1,300 feet,” said Walker. “So, I thought we were high enough to be at 13,000. I was not even close. As we started going up more, then I was like ‘wait a minute. I think this may have not been the best idea.’”

Then the door opens. With it comes a rush of wind. Walker didn’t have time to second guess it at that point, because she was up first. Walker went back to her training, telling herself “I have to stay focused and remember my training.”

Stepping to the edge of the plane, with everyone watching, the taller-than-average skydiving student held onto the top of the plane with her hand and leaned out of the open door, looking 13,000 feet to the Earth below.

“My teacher made a joke: “Whats the worse that could happen? You fall out of the plane? We’re trying to jump out of the plane anyway.’”

Walker made the leap.

“When I jumped, all my fear smacked me immediately,” said Walker. “I started to get nervous. I started to get scared because if feels like you’re on a roller coaster and you’re just on that constant down. You’re thinking through your head ‘I’m falling to the ground. The ground’s right there. I can see this. I can see that. I can’t see where I’m going to land.’”

Eboni Walker

After a few seconds of panic, Walker did what she does on the court: She went back to her training. Walker thought back to the practice touches her and her classmates did on the ground to find the parachute cord.

Initially, it was painful for the aspiring engineer. When the parachute deployed, the strap on the bag rose up to push up on her neck, choking her momentarily.

Walker adjusted and went full flare. A term used when the descent slows as the person jumping pulls down on the parachute. It’s a technic that even Walker’s instructor has trouble explaining, outside of how everything goes silent in that moment.

“After I did a full flare I was like ‘Oh my gosh,’” said Walker. “You could see the whole land, and its so quiet. So peaceful and you’re just floating down. Nice and slowly.”

When Walker landed on the ground, she wasn’t the same.

Her Outlook in Life Has Changed

“It’s rare that she (Walker) doesn’t walk in and have a smile on her face and have a great attitude,” said coach McGuff. “She’s always in a pretty good mood but she’s been super upbeat all summer.”

That’s when Walker is on the ground, but since the jump the forward still finds herself in the clouds. The normal worries of an adult in college hit differently after falling a thousand feet in a second.

Sometimes the forward has to be reminded she’s at practice. Walker snaps back to reality, but a new one.

“What I really learned from that class, from that experience, is going to help me forever,” said Walker. “Now people make jokes in the gym ‘Hey, you’re different now.’ I say ‘Yes, I am!’” I am very different because nothing will ever be as serious as jumping out of the sky. Now if I have a two-page or a 10-page paper, I’m like ‘Cool, I’ll get it done.’”

Walker’s now stronger than ever worry-free attitude is rubbing off on her teammates, kind of. Fellow forward Taylor Thierry noticed a different in Walker too.

“Her outlook in life has changed,” said Thierry. “For me personally, I’d love to go sky-diving. I’m a little timid at first but hearing her experience about skydiving makes me want to do it too.”

When asked when, Thierry laughed “Maybe when my career’s over.”

Read through a post from Walker across social media and her faith takes center stage. Call it confirmation but that same day Walker told coach McGuff that she was soon going to jump out of a plane, Walker not only gave but received some exciting news.

It was when Walker found out the Buckeyes start their regular season in her hometown of Las Vegas.

The community of actual residents of Las Vegas is tightknit, far from the stereotype of the strip, sin and “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

Once the news went live, Walker’s phone blew up with friends, family and members of the even more tightknit Las Vegas women’s basketball community ecstatic about not only Walker’s return but many of her youth basketball teammates.

“That’s just amazing. It’s always a testament to the staff. They always try to do stuff like that for us,” said Walker. “it was so hard for me not to tell everybody in the world that I was coming back.”

Going up against Ohio State are the USC Trojans, full of players who played with and against Walker in the Vegas community. With the USC men’s team also making the trip, that means a potential visit by avid Ohio State fan LeBron James, whose son Bronny James committed to the Trojans this year.

The quadruple header at T-Mobile Arena even includes Angel Reese and the NCAA championship-winning LSU Tigers.

“It’s a huge opportunity for womens basketball. We already set the numbers this past year so you can imagine the numbers when you have USC there and us there, a rising team that when we play you we’re coming ready,” said Walker. “This is a one-time opportunity; By all means, Ohio State is going to make the best of it.”

It’s easy to trust Walker when she says the Buckeyes will make the best of it. Look through Walker’s life and she’s made a habit of doing just the same.