By air or by water: Longtime friends make their college choices at Pacelli

Published 5:06 pm Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Pacelli seniors Buay Koak and Winston Walkup were born half a world away, but they each came into the world within an hour of each other and soon they’ll be heading their separate ways after building a strong friendship.

Koak, who was born in Nairobi, moved to Austin before he started school and immediately befriended Walkup in preschool. While the only sport they play together is track and field, the two have been each other’s biggest supporters over the past few years.

“We’ve been friends since preschool. I’m not feeling the end of it yet, but the emotions are starting to show up,” Koak said. “We’ve been in classes together in school every year, and we hang out all the time. We also do track and weightlifting together. We’re around each other a lot. We have too many memories together to remember.”

Email newsletter signup

Koak and Walkup were at each other’s sides on Wednesday as Koak signed to play basketball at Division II Southwest State University and Walkup signed to swim at Division III University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. 

“It’s nice that we’re still together, but now we know we’re going to split up,” Walkup said. “It’s kind of sad.”

Koak, who will receive an athletic scholarship, is the first Pacelli basketball player to sign on to a Division II school in at least two decades and he is the first Lyle-Pacelli player to sign on since Kristi Fett signed with Minnesota State University in 2017.

“It feels good. It doesn’t matter what school you go to, as long as you work hard you can aspire to your goals,” Koak said. “Just because I go to a small school with less than 400 students, it didn’t stop me from achieving this goal.”

Walkup took eighth in the 100-yard backstroke at the state meet this season, where he also finished 12th in the 200-yard individual medley and 10th on the 200-yard medley relay team with his future UW-Eau Claire teammate Kenny Cabeen, an AHS senior.

Walkup is excited for the new challenge, but he’s also a little bit nervous to spread his wings.

“I’m kind of scared, but I heard from everyone on the team that it sucks at first, but you get used to it and you get better,” Walkup said. “When I visited Eau Claire it’s more like Pacelli. It’s friendly and it’s kind of like a family. The class sizes are smaller and they have a really good swimming program.”

Koak surpassed 2,300 career points in his career and he is the all-time leading scorer for Lyle and Pacelli. He averaged 21.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.9 blocks and 1.6 steals per game as he led LP to the Section 1A semifinal, which was the best finish in co-op history.

Koak had been in contact with the Mustangs during his junior year and he was able to land an offer from Southwest State after a few spots opened up late in the recruiting process. Now that he’s leveling up, Koak is embracing the challenge of trying to land a spot on a DII roster.

“The coach was honest to me and it felt like home when I visited campus. I like the community aspect of it,” Koak said of Southwest State, which is located in Marshall. “I kind of saw the same thing in AAU where I went from being the best to being average. I’ve just got to make myself different. Going to DII, I’m really going to have to fight for a spot. It’s going to be the beginning of a journey and I’m going to work hard and control what I can.”

The Mustangs men’s basketball team went 16-12 overall this past season.