Walker impresses in debut with Wildcats

The Kansas State men's basketball team built an early 14-3 lead that led to a 55-19 halftime advantage against Kennesaw State in the first round of the Findley Toyota Las Vegas Holiday Classic. "Between Bill and Mike (Beasley) and Jake (Pullen) and the recruiting class that's coming in, that's what they want to do," Huggins said. "They want to make history, and we all want it."

The Wildcats (7-3) used the momentum from the early advantage to springboard them into an 82-54 victory over the Owls (2-7), but that's not the reason why most of the 8,764 fans made the trip to Bramlage Coliseum Sunday afternoon.

The fans came to see what happened at the 15:22 mark in the first half, when highly touted freshman Bill Walker entered the game and officially made his collegiate debut. The young forward received a raucous standing ovation from the crowd, and he did not disappoint in his first appearance.

"Yea, that felt good," Walker said about the big ovation. "That always picks up your play a little more when you got the crowd behind you so that was great."

Walker played 22 minutes – second only to junior forward David Hoskins who played 23 – and he was also second on the team in points with 15 on 6-for-10 shooting from the field and 3-for-3 from the free throw line. Hoskins led the way with 17 points, and he also had seven rebounds, five assists and two steals.

Walker is extremely gifted athletically, and he showed that off during the game.

There were three times when he went up for a basket, got fouled, and hung in the air long enough to make the basket while the defender was already back on the ground. He converted on all three of those three-point plays. He was also very active on the defensive end of the floor, and he was flying around chasing loose balls and trying to set up alley oops.

"(The atmosphere) wasn't different from anything else. I played in big arenas before so it was more like business as usual to me," Walker said after his team cruised to the easy victory over Kennesaw State.

"I played alright. I just wanted to come in and provide a spark on the defensive end. I just want to fit in with the team and the best way to do that is by playing hard on defense and I think that happened."

Most of his teammates would agree that Walker plays hard-nosed defense and will be a huge addition to this team.

"He played good, man, and once he gets into better shape he is going to help us a lot," Hoskins said. "I think he kinda completes our team."

Walker was winded after playing so many minutes mainly because, as he said, he hasn't played in a sanctioned basketball game since last July 31 during the AAU nationals in Orlando. Huggins said he knew his new player would get tired, but he wanted to make sure he played a lot so that he can get into shape quick.

"I thought he was good the first half. The second half, I think he was like everybody else was, we kinda sleepwalked through it," Huggins said. "Ordinarily I would have got him out because he wasn't playing with the same kind of intensity. We're trying to get him into game shape and he's not going to get into game shape unless he plays, and we wanted to play him."

Walker said he expects to be back into game shape by the time Big 12 Conference play rolls around, and that's when he expects to be able to show off what he really can bring to the table.

"The team was more intense today than in the past games on the defensive side," Walker said. "We just gotta take pride in that, and that's probably the biggest thing that I can offer this team."

In the first half, when the Wildcats built that huge lead, the held the Owls to just 22 percent shooting from the field. Walker spent most of his time on the court guarding Kennesaw State's best player, Shuan Stegall, who was averaging 17.6 points and 9.8 rebounds coming into the game.

Stegall finished the game with only three points and three rebounds, and Walker's defense played a huge part in that.

Huggins agrees with Walker's perception of what he can bring to this team, but he said his overall athleticism is going to be the biggest factor in the long run.

"It's obvious I think. He brings athleticism, and we don't have that kind of athleticism," Huggins said. "With that athleticism comes the ability to make plays that other people can't make. He can do a lot of things but he's got to get better.

"We just looked at a guy who just left high school. Look at the difference between (freshman center) Jason Bennett today and Jason Bennett in his first game, or Cartier's first game and Cartier now. He's going to get a whole lot better, and there's things that he's going to have to change because it's not high school anymore and you can't just rely on athleticism.

The great thing is he's willing to do that, he wants to do that, he wants to get better and he wants to be coached."

His abilities as a basketball player have impressed and even shocked some of his older teammates.

"He surprised me actually how he played, first game out, being a freshman like that," said senior guard Lance Harris. Harris had nine points, five rebounds and four assists in the win against the Owls. "It just shows that he has character and that when he plays hard he is going to be able to help us.

"In practice he was doing a few things to show how athletic he is and how big he is and how strong he goes to the cup at a young age like that. It's just something I've never seen in person."

Senior forward Cartier Martin came into the season as the best player on the team, and he has even taken a back seat to the Bill Walker show.

"He brings some explosiveness to the team," said Martin, who had 12 points and four rebounds in the game. "He is a good athlete, he's able to jump well and he can shoot the ball well. He brings a lot of versatility to the team and he can open up a lot of the guys."

Walker and his team returns to action in the second round of the Las Vegas Classic at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Bramlage against Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Christmas Wish

A timeout was called at the 11:43 mark, and both teams went to their respective benches.

The jumbotron sported a segment that was called "What I want for Christmas" that showed a number of the players saying what they would like to have for the fast-approaching holiday.

Players like Martin and Harris said they want to win the Las Vegas Tournament, while others like Bennett and Hoskins said they wanted to see their families.

Walker was the last player on the segment, and he said his Christmas wish loud and clear.

"What I want for Christmas is a national championship."

This sent the crowd into another loud roar in an otherwise dull second half. "That's what I strive for you know, I want to be a winner," Walker said after the game. "Why not go for the whole thing?" Huggins didn't know about the segment until after the game, but he said that is the mindset he is trying to instill into his current and future players.

"Between Bill and Mike (Beasley) and Jake (Pullen) and the recruiting class that's coming in, that's what they want to do," Huggins said. "They want to make history, and we all want it."


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