Central Catholic grad Walther garners UPJ honor
Bob Rukavina once saw Justin Walther score 50 points in a summer league game in Greenfield. Rukavina, who is men's basketball coach at Pitt-Johnstown, would later watch Walther score eight points in the first two minutes of his first scrimmage as a freshman with the team.
Rukavina saw Walther score 39, 38 and 37 points in consecutive games during his Mountain Cats career.
Walther knew how to produce points — lots of them.
“He was just a scorer — an unstoppable scorer,” Rukavina said of Walther, a 2000 Pitt-Johnstown graduate. “He had a phenomenal ability as an offensive player.”
A Munhall native and resident, Walther's prolific scoring ability has made him a Hall of Famer. The all-time leading scorer at Pitt-Johnstown, Walther is a member of the sixth induction class into the Pitt-Johnstown Athletics Hall of Fame.
This year's ceremonies are Saturday at the Pitt-Johnstown Living-Learning Center.
“It is a pretty cool honor,” Walther said. “I keep in touch with (Rukavina) all the time. We have a great relationship and I'm looking forward to seeing him, and there's a bunch of friends and family coming up for it as well. I'm just really looking forward to it.”
Once UPJ established an athletics hall of fame in 2007, it was only a matter of time before Walther became a part of it. After a decorated high school career at Central Catholic and one year at Robert Morris, Walther transferred to Pitt-Johnstown in 1996.
By the time he graduated, he had made his mark on the Mountain Cats' record books. In addition to the career-best 2,073 points, the 875 career rebounds he graduated with ranked him second on the school's all-time list.
Walther also holds the UPJ records for career field goals (735), career free throws made (517) and free throws made in a season (164).
“He was just a competitor,” Rukavina said. “Just a winner. He didn't look like much, maybe 6-foot-6 1⁄2, 195 pounds. It wasn't like he was real athletic, but he was a real skilled guy. He just had great skills.”
No. 2 on the career scoring list at Central Catholic, Walther had remarkable junior and senior seasons at Pitt-Johnstown. He led the NCAA Division II East region in scoring — and led the country in free throws made and attempted — both years, earning first-team all-East region.
The Mountain Cats also experienced great team success with Walther leading the way, making their first two NCAA Division II Tournament appearances his freshman and sophomore seasons and attaining a national ranking as high as No. 4 in 1999-2000.
Walther averaged nearly 19 points and eight rebounds in his career.
“In practice, he did the drills and everything, but he wasn't the greatest practice player,” Rukavina said. “He just was all about competing. We'd say, ‘We'll play to 10' — and he'd score all 10 points by himself. Put a number on it, and he'd do it. Just an incredible player.”
Walther said his scoring proficiency came from countless hours in the driveway repeatedly working on post moves and shooting 3-pointers with his father, Howie.
“A couple hours every day,” Walther said. “He was the big influence on me playing basketball. Pretty much if it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't have played. I probably would have played soccer instead.”
Walther caught the basketball bug. After graduating with bachelor degrees in business finance and marketing management, Walther has been involved with his family-run landscaping business and worked as a mortgage loan officer.
He spent a season working for the American Basketball Association's Pennsylvania Pit Bulls and vows to take a more active role in participating in youth basketball camps.
“Basketball is supposed to be fun,” Walther said. “It was part of my personality to trash talk and get into it on the court during games.
“There are some great memories there (at UPJ) — and some great teams.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.