Walker Kessler is one of the most sought-after men’s basketball prospects in the Class of 2020. Recently, the five-star big man from College Park, Georgia narrowed down his university choices and the California Golden Bears program remains among the final six. The others are Michigan, Gonzaga, North Carolina, Auburn, and Duke. Here are a few reasons that Cal fans should hope that he chooses to play his home games at Haas Pavilion.
Interior (and exterior) defense
The Bears certainly missed the shot blocking tandem of Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh last season. While head coach Mark Fox has recently added big men Lars Thiemann and Kuany Kuany, both can be considered wild cards in terms of their roles on the team. On the other hand, Kessler could be penciled in as an immediate starter and likely compete for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. Kessler can block shots with seemingly minimal effort at the high school level, and he hasn’t even played his senior season yet. He posted an eye-popping 6.4 rejections per game for the Woodward Academy War Eagles. Part of this reason is that he will help out all over the court, even shutting down a three-point shooter who isn’t his man.
Kessler is an impressive package even before you notice his range. He shows no hesitation when rising up for three-point attempts. Kessler averaged 21 points per game and shot 33% from long range which is especially impressive for a player who is already listed around 7’0”. While Woodward lost to Carver in the semifinals of the AAAA state playoffs in March, Kessler kept his team in it by hitting four of ten attempts from behind the arc. His squad finished the campaign with a record of 22-9.
Kessler has demonstrated solid post moves around the hoop which can be lethal especially against smaller defenders. His fundamentals are really solid and he’s not afraid to use the backboard after unleashing a spin move to beat the defense. To add whipped cream to the sundae, Kessler’s fadeaway jumpers are often jaw-dropping. He has also incorporated a step-back move to allow him even more room to shoot. Better yet, Kessler is nimble enough to score around a man by playing the angles rather than bullying his way into a potential charging call. He is already accustomed to being double-teamed and does not seem to get flustered in those cases. I wouldn’t either if I could drain a hook shot so reliably.
Kessler pulled down 11.9 boards per contest last season, often doing so thanks to good instincts. A player of his size will naturally luck into rebounds, but Kessler uses body position to supplement his natural abilities in this department. While he is confident in his ability to convert offensive rebounds into points, Kessler will also look for teammates when he is blanketed by opposing jerseys. The same arms that allow him to catch high entry passes are certainly useful on the glass.
Big men tend to be more mobile overall than in the past, but Kessler reminds me of a gazelle running the floor. While Kessler won’t be playing point guard, he handles the ball very well for someone of his size. Whether he goes coast to coast or finishes an alley-oop, scoring in transition poses no trouble at all.
There is plenty of competition for Kessler’s services, and a decision will likely come in October or November. Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl has made no secret of the fact that he covets a player of his caliber. Nevertheless, Kessler seems intrigued by the Cal program and Mark Fox recently coached in his home state of Georgia. From everything I have seen, there is really no reason not to wish for Walker Kessler to become a Golden Bear.