"Nobody recognizes me yet," Kirk Walters confessed. "They do ask me if I play some basketball and I say ‘a little bit here and there.'"
Walters may have been the lowest rated recruit in this year's class, but he's proving to be the most important. With the loss of three post players, the true freshman will find himself pressed into duty right away.
In an ideal world Walters would probably either redshirt or play spot minutes. Instead he'll be counted on to be the first, and only, big man off the bench. He's not as physically mature as you would like, and the lack of strength and seasoning will hurt him.
"He needs to get stronger, but he works very hard in the weight room.," Lute Olson said.
That hard work has already paid off. Walters has already put on 10 pounds of muscle since the start of school and you can see the difference from the first few pick-up scrimmages. He still needs some size to bang with the big boys, but Walters is already feeling the effects of the Wildcat weight program.
"When I first got here I was really out of shape," informed Walters. "Brad (Arnett) really helped me out with my conditioning."
The Cats need Walters to get stronger, but aren't counting on him to be a big time banger in the paint. They know the finesse part of his game is his strength.
"He looks good," said Josh Pastner. "He's not going to be a guy who ever reaches 350, but he's definitely going to get strong." In many ways Walters resembles a young Channing Frye. He's athletic, runs the floor well and has a decent stroke. He's still learning the game to some extent, but the promise is there. Olson and his staff spotted that raw ability when scouting another player at the Las Vegas Big Time Tournament.
"You can tell that Kirk is going to be a good player," Olson said. "He's very coachable and a quick learner. You can see his shot-blocking ability, not only on the ball, but when he comes to provide support. He's long and he moves well." Walters went to Las Vegas in hopes of securing his choice of MAC scholarships and left with Arizona and a few other top-tier programs trying to enlist his services. All it took was a visit to Midnight Madness and Walters was sold.
"Right when I got back from Vegas it was kind of a whirl wind with all the phone calls," Walters said. "But after I made the decision to Arizona it calmed down. From then on it's been a great experience."
The only trepidation Walters had in becoming a Wildcat is the distance from his home in Grand Rapids Michigan. Walters quickly decided that Tucson might be further away than some of his options, but the Arizona program felt like home.
"At first it really was a concern," Walters said. "At first the schools I was looking at were two hours from my house, forty-five minutes away from my house. I just began to look at it from the fact that no matter how close I am I'll be gone a lot of the time. It was just an opportunity I couldn't pass up. Then I just had to go and see it for myself. It just felt like a better fit. I just felt more comfortable with the Arizona coaches, they are all great guys."
Now Walters has to get up to speed, and quick. Not only are the Cats thin up front, but there is a chance Isaiah Fox could miss time after his recent shoplifting charge. Walters is trying to learn as fast as possible and the coaches are not holding anything back.
"They've thrown a lot of things at me," Walters said. "I've learned a ton. Just getting a feel for guys, how they play, it's been a help."
Walters is still adjusting, not only to life as a Wildcat, but life as a college student. Many forget that in addition to preparing for the upcoming season, he's also getting used to the collegiate life. So far, so good insists Walters.
"It's great," said Walters. "I've had a good time playing ball and going to school. I'm just trying to get as much sleep as possible."
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