‘Fighting for change’

Published 5:07 pm Monday, April 1, 2024

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“I just want to thank God for guiding me to Longwood,” guard Walyn Napper said after the season’s final game. Sitting down for a postgame press conference after the loss to Houston in the NCAA Tournament, the college senior was asked by the media present to reflect on his career in Farmville and what the program has meant to him. 

“Playing for Coach Griff for the last two years, it’s been good,” Napper said. “It’s been a great experience. This being my last year as a senior, not going out the way we wanted to go out but still, being able to have a championship in the Big South was a goal of ours. And (also) make it to the NCAA Tournament.” 

And Napper has been through a transformation during his time in Farmville, both on and off the court. As a player, he’s won awards, such as the Big South Tournament MVP this past month, leading the team on a run to the title. He’s also nearly doubled his scoring. Coming in as a transfer from Southern Mississippi, he had averaged 7.8 points down south. His first year here, that grew to a 9.4 average. Then this year, it bumped up to 14.4 per game. 

But more importantly, he grew in other ways. First, Napper grew as a leader. Taking the reigns this season, he both worked to set an example and also wasn’t afraid to speak up, to motivate other players. Setting an example extended beyond the basketball court, as Napper made the Dean’s List for two semesters. 


It’s a far cry from the high school senior whose grades weren’t good enough to get into a four-year college, so he had to attend junior college. Even at Southern Mississippi, Napper admits his focus was on being an athlete first, then a student. Here at Longwood, that’s reversed. And here too, he’s been an example to the younger players. They’ve seen you don’t have to sacrifice your game in order to get better in the classroom. Napper has done both at the same time, learning Longwood Coach Griff Aldrich’s system while also improving his grades. 

“Walyn is a true testament to what can happen when you want to fight for change,” Aldrich said at the postgame press conference. “Walyn came to us two years ago and was a young man who really wanted to grow. And if you told me a year ago that I would be sitting on this stage, telling you that Walyn had done what he’s done, I’m not sure I would have believed you. But the growth that young man has had, it’s a true testament.”

Aldrich said it’s been great to see Napper also take on that leadership role, not just as a voice on the team but as the leader for the Lancers on and off the court. 

“Walyn has grown so much, to see him come in as a guy who fought for just trying to do things the right way consistently, to then being our clear leader and clearly leading us to a championship and being the MVP, it’s the joy of coaching,” Aldrich said. “It’s the joy of seeing transformed lives through athletics.” 

Aldrich said he believes Napper will leave Longwood a different person than the player who first arrived in Farmville. 

“And I think we can all hold our heads high as a result,” he added. 


Napper went a bit deeper, saying Aldrich and the rest of the coaching staff aren’t just preparing players for game day. 

“I don’t know how I can repay them,” he said. “It’s not all about basketball. It’s about growing as a man and Coach Griff has helped all of us grow as young men. He’s helping us prepare for the real world.” 

And the sociology major will take another step toward what comes next later this spring, as he puts on a cap and gown to walk across the stage and get his diploma. When that happens, Napper will become the first member of his immediate family to graduate from college. But for the moment, he’s just been taking it all in, saying during the postgame presser how thankful he is to be in this position. 

“I love this team. I love this group of guys,” Napper said. “I love the coaches. They took a chance on me. I’m just very thankful for this moment, to live out the dream we had as kids.”