One of the more interested observers in Saturday's University of Arkansas-Baylor basketball game in Dallas will be Little Rock Hall junior point guard A.J. Walton.
That's because the Razorbacks (10-3) and the Bears (11-1) lead the chase for Walton (6-1, 180), certainly one of the state's top 2009 basketball prospects.
"It's really going to be an interesting game," Walton said. "Baylor's coaches let them run while Arkansas kind of slows it down a little bit. Baylor has good guards like Arkansas and I think a key will be how well Arkansas defends inside because (7-0, 250-pound junior center) Mamadou (Diene) is a beast."
Walton, averaging 18 points and 7 rebounds just as he was at the end of his sophomore season, has become a big fan of first-year Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey.
"I really like Coach Pelphrey and he tells me that if I come up there that they will be able to run like he really wants to, Walton said. "They are still my top choice, showing me a lot of favoritism and I really like what they are talking about."
There are a couple of other teams that have entered the mix lately per Walton.
"Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are coming on, too," Walton said. "But it is still Arkansas and Baylor at the top."
Little Rock Hall is 12-2 this season after losing Saturday night to Fort Smith Northside 63-58 in the championship game of the Coca-Cola Classic.
"We are now 12-2 and the season has been going good for us," Walton said. "We are finally going to get to go home finally and we don't plan on losing any more games."
Hall jumped out to an 11-5 lead, but Northside went on a 20-4 run to take control of the game.
Walton had 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter to help his team get a 12-point deficit down to three, but the Grizzlies held on for the win.
"We started off real good, but they have great shooters and their shooters got on a roll and ours didn't until late," Walton said. "It was just a bad night for us."
That same sentiment was echoed by Hall coach George Cirks.
"I think we just got satisfied and didn't play our game after," Cirks said. "We didn't a little bit more one-on-one and quit running our offense. They got on that run and then we didn't have time to come back and catch up with them."
Hall had won the tournament the year before with Walton scoring 15 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out 5 assists in the finals.
Cirks said Walton is a great competitor, but sometimes that does more harm than good.
"A.J. is such a competitor, really handles and passes the ball well and hates to lose," Cirks said. "The one thing we have to slow him down from is trying to do too much. If he just distributes the ball and runs our offense and gets the shots when they are available, he does a great job.
"But sometimes he gets frustrated and he will try to do a little bit more than he should," Cirks said. "Tonight I thought he got too bad breaks on calls and he let that bother him a little bit. He came back and did well after that."
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