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Kemba Walker ‘locked in’ as he makes his return to Charlotte

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Returning to the place he started his NBA career and played eight seasons is different for Kemba Walker, but his mind-set hasn’t changed.

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s certainly a feeling Kemba Walker isn’t used to after playing for the Charlotte Hornets for eight years.

The Spectrum Center is like another home for Walker, but tonight, unlike the hundreds of other times playing in the venue, the All-Star guard will veer toward the visitors locker room and get ready there, as Walker makes his first return to Charlotte to face his former team as a member of the Boston Celtics.

“It’s weird,” Walker said. “Being here yesterday, I went home, and it didn’t feel real. … Being in that [visitors] locker room now, we’d only go in there when we got random drug tests. So it’s weird, no doubt.”

It seemed hard for Walker, who signed a four-year, $141 million contract at the outset of free agency with the C’s, to process being back to play a basketball game in Charlotte, but not donning a Hornets uniform.

Charlotte drafted Walker at No. 9 overall in the 2011 draft and the UConn product made a name for himself in the NBA with the Hornets. Walker, who is the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, was a three-time All-Star and earned Third Team All-NBA recognition last year as he averaged 19.8 points, 5.5 assists and 3.8 rebounds over the course of his eight seasons in Charlotte.

“This is definitely different because I’ve been here so long, played here so long, and obviously I’m on a new team now, and boom, I’m back for a game,” Walker said. “It’s just different. I’m just looking forward to seeing how the night plays out.”

Unlike Gordon Hayward, who received a bevy of boos last year in his return trip to face the Utah Jazz, it should be a very welcoming reception for Walker.

The undersized guard was a fan favorite due to his strong work ethic and sensational play to raise the expectations of an underwhelming Charlotte organization — the Hornets had been to the postseason only once since 2003 until Walker led Charlotte to the playoffs twice, albeit posting a 3-8 mark and never getting past the first round.

Walker, who already went up against his ex-teammates in a preseason matchup at the TD Garden, has displayed those same characteristics through his first six games as a Celtic by averaging 26.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.

Walker’s drive to win at a higher rate ultimately led him to Boston, and while his return to Charlotte will be a memorable moment, he is really just looking for one thing in his return that more often than not eluded him when he was Hornet.

“I won’t (get swept up in the emotions) at all,” Walker said. “I want to win. If there’s one thing I want to do it’s win tonight. Don’t get it twisted, it will be great everything before the game, but I’m going to be locked in.”