Steve Ernst had a pretty good idea what he was getting in Walter Pitchford as a player. It's what has happened off of the court that has put a smile on the face of the Summit Christian Academy coach.
"I'm really excited about how Walter has matured as an individual," Ernst said. "He's one of our captains and has taken on the responsibility really well. His basketball ceiling is as high as anyone in the country. It's his maturity that excites me."
Pitchford signed with DePaul last year. After much haggling, the school allowed him out of his letter of intent following a head coaching change.
"He's being patient," Ernst said. "He's focused on getting better and is very appreciative of the teams that are working hard to get him. He hasn't taken any officials and it might be a while before he starts visiting places."
"Coach McCaffery and Sherman Dillard came out and sat down with us for a while," Ernst said. "They're working really hard and doing a good job. He's got quite a job ahead of him out there, but he's capable of getting it done."
Memphis came to the East Lansing school to watch Pitchford this week.
Pitchford is averaging 21 points and 14 rebounds in this early season. He's leading the team in 3-point shooting percentage (41.0).
"He's really getting better and diversifying his game," Ernst said. "He's doing it in the post and on the perimeter. I wouldn't trade him for any player on the schools we've played and that includes Oak Hill (Academy) and Hargrave (Military Academy)."
The 6-foot-10, 220-pound Pitchford still has time on his side as he's only 18. He will proceeded with caution this spring when choosing a school.
"In today's game, you just don't know which players are going to leave (college) early or if coaches are going to leave," Ernst said. "That's something you have to look into, especially when you're taking visits. People are doing a good job recruiting him and I could see him signing early in the spring, but he's going to make sure it's right."
Ernst coached former Iowa State and Syracuse star Wesley Johnson as an assistant for his father at Eldon Academy. The Minnesota Timberwolves picked Johnson with the fourth overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft.
"Walter is ahead of where Wesley Johnson was at this point of his career," Ernst said.