Kirk Walters commits and completes 2003 class

Arizona's 2003 recruiting class became complete when the Wildcats added 6-10 PF Kirk Walters on Tuesday. Walters is an athletic power forward from Grand Rapids (Mich.) South Christian High School. With the three commitments that Arizona has received, the arguments can begin as to whether or not it ranks as the best recruiting haul in school history.

Arizona fell in love with Kirk Walters and his tremendous athleticism this summer during the Las Vegas Big Time tournament. From the first game he played with his Michigan Mustangs AAU team, all one had to do was look over at head coach Lute Olson or assistant Josh Pastner to see that they had stumbled upon a gem.

In that first game, Walters demonstrated what kind of an athlete he is by blocking five shots and pulling down close to a dozen rebounds in less than 20 minutes of action. That first game featured Kirk Walters going up against one of 2004's top power forward prospects in Marvin Williams (6-8, 235, Bremerton, WA).

I noticed Olson and Pastner's reactions after a couple of Walters' Kenyon Martin-like dunks (the explosion off the ground, not the destruction to the rim) and decided I had better find out who else was looking at this kid.

"Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Kent State, just a bunch of MAC schools really," Walters said, almost sounding embarrassed that his list didn't include the bigger name schools that some of his fellow AAU buddies had on their lists. "I know that Arizona has a great tradition over the last ten years or so, so of course I'd be interested if they were interested in me."

Apparently the Wildcats were more than just interested. They took Walters over a consensus top 10 prospect that plays basically the same position that Walters does in Brian Butch (7-0 PF, Appleton, Wis.).

"I knew it was down to either one of us," Kirk said Tuesday night. "I didn't want to wind up wanting to go to Arizona in a few weeks and then have him take the scholarship so that's why I decided before I thought I would."

Contrary to what has been reported, Walters did not commit to Arizona while on his visit this past weekend. Instead, he waited for the coaching staff to call him Monday night and it was then that he informed them of his decision.

"I'm so excited," he said. "I asked (the coaches) if they thought (Butch) would commit and they said they didn't think he would anytime soon. They were really honest with me."

Walters joins the nation's No. 1 ranked point guard (Mustafa Shakur, 6-3, Wynnewood, PA) and No. 1 ranked forward (Ndudi Ebi, 6-9, Hoston, TX) to make up Arizona's three-man class of 2003. This threesome, when they all make it official by signing Letters-of-Intent on November 13th, is unquestionably the best in school history and maybe the best in America this year also.

"This class may be the best they've ever had talent-wise," said PrepStar's Jeff Goodman, one of the nation's top recruiting analysts. "Lute's done a great job with the guys who haven't been rated that highly in the past. Look at Channing Frye, nobody had him in their top 100 coming into last year.

"So after getting Walters, right now I'd have to say that Arizona's class is either No. 1 or 1A (nationally). Theirs is certainly at least as good as anybody else's right now."

Goodman also commented on who he thought was the better fit at Arizona between Walters and Butch.

"I think Walters filled the need at Arizona better," he said. "Everyone will think they should have gone after Brian Butch but I think Walters is more of what they needed at Arizona. Butch is very skilled but Walters is so athletic and he runs the floor better."

Kirk's father, Ward, accompanied his son on his official visit over the weekend to Arizona and said that the decision was left entirely up to Kirk after discussing the pros and cons of each of the three schools under consideration.

"We told Kirk that if he was going to go to Arizona we weren't going to be able to come to his games," Ward Walters said. "We might be able to get to some games but not once a week and not even once a month. But we are very excited for him and I know that he really liked the guys when he was down there. It's a great opportunity for him with all the limelight Arizona gets. Couldn't pass it up."

Walters is one of the fastest rising players in the class of 2003, rankings-wise. Before the summer, not only wasn't he in any of the top 100 or top 300 lists, no one had even heard of him. Literally. Now that he has committed to Arizona, the guess here is that he'll read his name somewhere in or around the top 50 by the time he finishes his senior year.

"I'm one of those 'look what can happen' guys," said Kirk, who says that he pays no attention to the rankings but says that it's flattering to see his name on some lists. "I'm mostly excited about just being a part of the program and getting to play for Lute Olson."

Walters has progressed so quickly from a relative unknown to a guy who will now be playing for the No. 1 team in America that he hasn't even had time to think about the ramifications. After being a player that opposing teams spent little extra time preparing for, Walters suddenly realized that now teams will be trying to shut down 'the guy who's going to Arizona'.

"That's true," he said. "I didn't think about it like that. I guess it puts a lot more pressure on me but I'm okay with that. It will hopefully make me that much better as a player."

Though he is still relatively thin at 210 pounds, his father weighs in at 240 pounds and stands 6-5. According to Ward, "Kirk has my build, he'll put on weight and (the coaches) talked about putting him on a special diet and weight program. He'll be fine."

"The coaches told me just to keep lifting," Kirk said. "That's really all they've said so far."

What separates Walters from some of the others in this class is his athleticism – which is the known aspect of his game – combined with his outside shot. He hits the 15 to 17-foot jump shots like a small forward would. He doesn't hesitate to shoot when he's open and he is more than aggressive enough to do whatever is asked of him both offensively and defensively.

"During my high school season I won't even shoot two 15-footers," Kirk said, laughing. "I'm strictly in the post for the season but I've always been a good shooter and I can make those shots when I take them."

Around the basket is where Kirk's game really thrives. With his athleticism and leaping ability (he can stand still, jump and touch the top of the square on the backboard) he is very hard to defend once he gets the ball down low.

"I feel very comfortable using both hands (around the basket)," said Kirk, who has a 6'4" personal best in the high jump. "I've never had my shot blocked when I go up with my right hand. I sometimes get shoved around but I'm getting stronger so that doesn't happen anymore."

From the mouth of one very respected basketball authority came these words about Kirk: "He will be a star at Arizona. In two years Arizona Wildcat fans won't even remember to question the decision to take Kirk ahead of Brian Butch because Kirk Walters has the potential to take his game to levels even Brian Butch couldn't get to. I'll tell you right now, Arizona got the steal of the class in the nation."

Walters is expected to come in next year and possibly redshirt so that he will have time to add bulk and learn from the coaching staff. But then again, that was the plan with Channing Frye, too and look what happened with him.

"From talking to the coaches," Kirk says. "They said they didn't think that they would redshirt me. I'll play the 4/5 at Arizona and I know that it's (interchangeable) in that system."

One of Olson's trademarks is that he schedules "return home" games for most of his out of state recruits. When asked if he would like to come back to Michigan and face either Central or Western Michigan, Kirk had a surprising answer.

"I'd like to see (Olson) schedule a game at Michigan State at some point while I'm there," he said. "There's a guy in our conference that committed to Michigan State and I'd like to play against him again. His name is Drew Nietzel (5-11 PG, 2004)."

Walters also said that while he has yet to get a chance to watch his fellow 2003 Wildcat recruits play, he has heard enough about them to be excited.

"I've heard a lot about them," he said. "I can't wait to play with them next year."

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