Florida Natural


by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam

With the NBA Playoffs and Draft in the rearview, free agency technically in its Moratorium period and summer league more than a week away, let’s—dare I say—take a break from the NBA and focus on the high school scene.

By now, you’re probably familiar with the Class of 2012. The UCLA triumvirate of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker should reenergize a hungry fan base and revive an iconic college basketball juggernaut in Los Angeles. The University of Arizona, however overshadowed it may be, has its own stellar class of neophytes in Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley. Coach John Calipari, per the usual, reloaded his M16 and is ready to empty the clip with future lottery pick Nerlens Noel and potential pros Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress. Providence will attempt a return to relevance with Kriss Dunn and Ricardo Ledo. Anthony Bennett will admirably wear his high school city on his sleeve; North Carolina State is loaded on the perimeter with Rodney Purvis, TJ Warren and Tyler Lewis; Isaiah Austin and Cameron Ridley will make the Big 12 much more exciting down low. So on and so forth.

But what do you know about the Class of 2013? Since you’re reading this, I presume you know at least a decent amount. Based off conversations I’ve had with friends/basketball fiends over the past year or so—and correct me if I’m wrong—the three most popular names thrown around are Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and the Harrison Twins. There’s the occasional outlier, mentioned here and there—Aaron Gordon, Kasey Hill, maybe Isaiah Hicks.

One name that’s hardly—if ever—tossed around in those conversations, as the focal point or otherwise, is Chris Walker.

Hailing from Bonifay, FL, Walker is a 6-9, 210-pound combo forward who’s equipped with precocious athletic ability, tremendous instincts and an excellent touch in the paint. He runs the floor like a gazelle, has a tireless motor and gets eye-level with the basket when he leaves the ground. When Walker is in the open court, he is unstoppable—he catches lobs extremely well, using a Calvin Johnson-esque go up and get it approach, has a strong enough handle to take it coast to coast and good vision to find the open man. On defense, he blocks shots like the second coming of Noel—pinning layups, refusing dunks, sending back high-arching floaters—and rebounds with relentless tenacity. I’ve never seen Parker, Randle or the Harrisons play, but I would wager a large sum of money that Walker is the most athletic player in his class.

The first time I saw Walker play was last summer at the inaugural Franchise Classic, which featured Anderson, Goodwin (both Archie and Shaquille), UConn-bound Omar Calhoun and numerous other elite prospects. When recapping Chris’ performance, I wrote the following:

“At 6-9, the junior gets eye-level with the rim every time he jumps. Walker scored 18 points off transition buckets, finishing with either a powerful dunk or smooth hook shot when he touched the ball… The lanky combo-forward has an ocean of untapped potential. Walker is a Perry Jones/Derrick Favors type, as his jumpshot needs a little work but his instincts and raw talent are unmatched. Simply put, Chris Walker is the real deal.”

A year later, and my feelings are just as strong. With a solid junior season at Holmes County High School, and a very impressive start on the AAU circuit with the highly ranked Florida Rams, the race to sign the uncommitted Walker has officially begun. Walker has quietly crept up the recruiting rankings, and will continue to do so until, as I truly believe will happen, he lands in the top three in the Class of ‘13.

We recently caught up with Walker and discussed numerous topics, including his timetable and plan for making a college commitment, the prospect of playing for his hometown Florida Gators, meeting his favorite basketball player and role model LeBron James, adjusting to the pressure of being a five-star recruit and much more.

SLAM: What’s up, Chris? How’s your summer going?

Chris Walker: Pretty good, man. Just playing a lot of basketball and working out a bunch.

SLAM: How’s the AAU season going so far?

CW: Really good. We won the adidas Exclusive Run in Las Vegas, then won the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions in Atlanta. Then we had a few weeks off and had a slip up in the Wallace Prather Tournament in Atlanta, but we bounced back real quick and won the Best Buy Classic in Chicago. Our whole team is clicking right now; it’s like we know what we need to do in order to win games without saying anything. We just get on the court, focus, and take care of business.

SLAM: You recently attended the Amar’e Stoudemire Skills Academy in Chicago. How was that?

CW: It was a great experience. We talked to Amar’e and Deron Williams, and they just gave us instructions and advice, both on and off the court. The camp itself was very, very intense—Amar’e made us work. But it really was an amazing experience. It was crazy because after the camp, Amar’e came up to me and asked me for my number, which showed me a lot of respect. Now we’ve been texting a little bit, trying to stay in touch. I’m just humbled and grateful that I had to opportunity to work with him. And after the camp, I received an invite to the Jordan Brand Classic, which was always one of my dreams. Man, it’s been a crazy few weeks…

SLAM: JBC! Congrats, Chris. That’s a huge accomplishment.

CW: Thanks man, appreciate that. My next goal is to get invited to the McDonald’s All-American Game.

SLAM: What kind of on-court stuff did you guys work on?

CW: Amar’e taught us about everything—shooting, post moves, footwork. We just worked hard and asked a lot of questions along the way.

SLAM: You’re now entering your senior year of high school. Have you narrowed down your list of potential schools?

CW: Yeah. Right now I’m considering seven schools: Kentucky, Florida, Kansas, Ohio State, Baylor, Louisville and Syracuse. I’m going to schedule all seven visits at the end of the summer and then make a decision.

SLAM: When do you think you will commit? Do you have a specific date or month you want to make your decision by?

CW: My plan is to commit either right after this summer or towards the beginning of the school year; I’ve always wanted to decide early in the process, to get comfortable and just enjoy my senior year of high school without all the distractions. But then again, if I’m not ready to make a decision, I might take my time. I’m still waiting on a scholarship from Kentucky, so that’s a big part of my decision process. If I get the scholarship from Kentucky, which I think will happen soon, then I can sit down and start evaluating everything.

SLAM: Last summer, you told me your goal is to be one-and-done in college. Is that still the plan?

CW: Yes sir, my goal is still to be one-and-done. If I put in the hard work, I think I can do it.

SLAM: What do you like about each of the schools that are recruiting you?

CW: I like every school in their own way. I’m not going to go into every one, but each school has specific qualities that attract me. For example, I like Baylor because I can play either the 3 or 4—I’m a combo forward—and I think Coach [Scott] Drew really knows how to use guys like me. He did a great job with Quincy Miller, just letting him play whichever position he felt comfortable at. Coach Drew is a player’s coach, and that’s something that I definitely like.

SLAM: What about staying at home and playing at the University of Florida? That must be an intriguing opportunity, right?

CW: Definitely. Being from Florida, I got to know Coach Donovan real early in the recruiting process, so we’ve been in touch for years now and we’ve built a great relationship. My mom really wants me to go to Florida, just so I stay close to home.

SLAM: Your teammate on the Florida Rams, Kasey Hill (Montverde Academy, ’13), has already committed to Florida. Do you guys talk about the possibility of playing together, and is Kasey constantly in your ear about going to UF?

CW: Me and Kasey talk about it all the time, and to be honest, I would love to play with him. Kasey is the truth—he can score, find the open man, and create for others. It would be really good to play with him. You know, I’m close with a lot of guys who’ve already committed and who I could see myself playing with. For instance, my boy Brannon Green, who is also on my AAU team, is committed to Kansas, and he is always pitching me on the Jayhawks. This is why the process of deciding is really tough.

SLAM: Do you believe you can become the No. 1 player in the country by the time you graduate?

CW: Honestly, I don’t really care about the rankings, but I think I can be. The way I’ve added stuff to my game is really showing. I have a solid post game, I’m developing my outside moves and my jumper, and I have always been able to block shots and rebound. I’m trying to do a little bit of everything to help my team win in all aspects of the game.

SLAM: What aspect of your game do you need to improve the most?

CW: I would say two things: my strength and my on-ball defense on perimeter players.

To address my strength, I’ve been lifting weights three days a week to get stronger. I’m at 210 pounds right now, but my goal is to get to 230 pounds before college. In terms of on-ball defense, I want to become a better defender outside the three-point line. Learning how to defend smaller, faster players, and being able to stay in front of them will be huge for me. If I can do that, I can legitimately lock down three of four positions on the court.

SLAM: What about your biggest strength?

CW: My transition game. I can grab a rebound and go coast to coast for a dunk because I have the ball control, speed and jumping ability to finish on the break, or I can receive a pass or an alley-oop and always finish. That’s why playing with Kasey has been so much fun—we just get out and run, and play with no mercy.

SLAM: Let me ask you about two of the top forwards in your class—Jabari Parker and Julius Randle. Have you seen them play?

CW: Yeah. I played against Jabari at Adidas Nations, and man, he was a beast. He’s 6-7, 6-8 and plays like Carmelo Anthony. He’s a very humble guy, and is always smiling. A real cool dude to hang around. Me and Julius played on the same team in 9th grade, and he’s also a beast down low. He reminds me of Zach Randolph.

SLAM: What’s your mindset for the rest of the summer and going into next season?

CW: I’m trying to dominate my last year of AAU, and play hard every game. I’m also really excited for the LeBron Camp. That should be a really great time. He’s my favorite player, so meeting him will be a dream come true.