It has been almost a month since College Park (Ga.) Woodward Academy center Walker Kessler made his way to Michigan for his official visit, but his head coach Anthony Thomas says the glow from the experience hasn’t warn off. The nation’s no. 2 big man in 2020 was the only prospect the Wolverines hosted that weekend, and the undivided attention they gave him was noteworthy.
“I think he enjoyed his time up there,” Thomas said. “Coach Beilein spent a lot of time with him. He was able to give him a lot of face time and they toured the facility together, and things of that nature. I think he enjoyed it very much. And the weather didn’t bother him. The family enjoyed it. He was excited. It was a good visit.”
Upon returning home the talented youngster got about the business of leading a team expected to contend for a state title. The War Eagles are now 3-1 and have already seen Kessler turn in a few head-turning efforts this year. The highlight to date was his 23-point, 12-rebound, 10-block effort in a 70-56 victory over North Clayton Tuesday. While that’s certainly impressive, it’s the type of performance Thomas believes could be the baseline for his star pupil. He believes there are even better showings on the horizon because of the clear improvements everyone is noticing in his big man’s game.
“He is definitely averaging a double-double, and he has been really close in blocks (to averaging a triple double),” Thomas said. “He almost had a quadruple double last Friday. He had 23 points nine rebounds, six steals, and six blocks.”
“I hear (talk of his improvement) from officials in games who are impressed with him,” Thomas continued. “I hear it from fans who come to see him from last year to this year. And as I told you initially, the biggest thing they talk about is mentally and emotionally he is much more confident and much more mature. He is able to handle setbacks and adversity (as evidenced by how) he had a triple double Tuesday, but he really didn’t play well. He had a little hip injury that he was trying to work through and started off slowly, then you could see him say hey,’ I’m going to power through this.’”
That toughness and tenacity really shows on the glass and on the defensive end, where Kessler has been a force. It’s not always to easy get youngsters to buy in on that end of the floor, but thanks in part to Thomas’ star player, his team has. It’s a trait that both coach and pupil noticed on Michigan’s team when they watched the Wolverines throttle North Carolina Wednesday night.
“My unbiased opinion is the defensive effort I saw (versus North Carolina) is worthy of a Final Four Team, easily,” Thomas said. “North Carolina is one of the most efficient offenses in the country as far as getting the ball out and getting the ball up the floor quickly. (Michigan) did a great job getting back in transition and stopping the initial break, then forcing North Carolina to play… similar to what we talk about… forcing them to play on the perimeter and not letting them have easy attacks to the basket. (The Wolverines) are big and strong at all positions. That’s a recipe for a Final Four team.”
“They’re talented and obviously well coached.”
The Michigan Insider caught up with Kessler a bit later and found him to be similarly impressed
“It was fun to watch… I’m not going to lie,” Kessler said. “Their defense is unbelievable. I was really impressed with Jon (Teske). He played great defense (and had) great hustle. He dove for the ball towards the (end of the half), which I got excited for. Iggy … he’s a beast, man. Did he have three and-ones? He had at least two. He was on top of it. Jordan Poole was great. The ‘Pit Bull’ (Zavier Simpson) was unbelievable. They were all just playing together, and you could tell. And they had heart, which I loved for sure.”
His time in Ann Arbor elicited a similar response.
“I loved Michigan as well,” Kessler said in a prior interview with 247Sports. “Great facilities. (I) love the coaching staff. (I) love Coach Beilein. He’s a brilliant and great guy.”
Stay tuned to The Michigan Insider for a full visit recap in the days to come.