Last November, when Hopkins basketball standout Kerwin Walton decided to delay his college decision until spring, he pictured a far different landscape.
The coronavirus pandemic has completely altered the recruiting game. Coaches can’t have face-to-face visits with recruits. Prospects can’t visit campuses. It’s making decisions for Walton and other graduating seniors even tougher.
At one point last weekend, Walton found himself staring in a daze at his cellphone, which seemed to buzz every other minute, as a long list of coaches checked in on him.
“It’s been crazy,” the four-star recruit said. “I don’t think it’s been like this ever.”
But this could bode well for the Gophers. They are among more than a handful of schools Walton is still considering with the late signing period scheduled to start April 15. The 6-5, 200-pound guard, who ranks among the nation’s top 100 seniors, also has offers from schools such as Arizona, North Carolina, Iowa State, Vanderbilt and Georgetown.
“I think Kerwin Walton is one of the best unsigned prospects in the 2020 class,” 247Sports.com recruiting director Evan Daniels said. “Walton’s shooting ability alone makes him a valuable prospect.”
With college campuses closed and travel severely limited, Walton is glad he visited most of the schools on his list, either on unofficial or official trips last summer and fall.
He also attended several Gophers games this season to see how he might fit in Richard Pitino’s system. Pitino hasn’t landed a local player in three of his past four classes, but Walton said that wouldn’t factor into his decision. He’s strongly considering staying home.
“[Watching the Gophers] definitely gives me a good insight on who I would be playing with and how they play,” he said. “Being able to see that so many times was very helpful. I don’t really feel too much pressure about it. I think it’s pretty cool and interesting for how much love and support I would get from the hometown.”
Rosters are typically in flux this time of the year with transfers and players potentially leaving for the NBA draft. The uncertainty has increased substantially.
“All I can do is stay updated and keep asking coaches questions,” Walton said. “This virus is making everything a little more clouded and hectic. Whether people are leaving or going. There are so many transfers going on, it’s insane. It’s going to be tough to see what rosters are looking like next year.”
A member of the Star Tribune’s All-Metro first team, Walton averaged 26 points and 11 rebounds per game for the Royals, who were section champions. They would’ve been one of the top seeds at the Class 4A state tournament had it not been canceled.
Instead of trying to help Hopkins defend its state title, Walton said it was heartbreaking to say goodbye to this year’s team prematurely. The 24-5 Royals were one of the biggest surprises in the state, especially making noise without 6-11 former center and current Arizona freshman Zeke Nnaji.
“Just to see that abruptly end with something like the coronavirus is really tough,” Walton said. “It’s really sad, but I can’t dwell too much on it. It’s just how life goes. Not everything can go your way.”
Royals coach Ken Novak Jr. coached recent prep stars Nnaji and former Gophers guard Amir Coffey. He feels Walton has the chance to make an immediate impact as a college freshman, but where he’ll play basketball next season is still wide open.
The constant check-ins from college coaches during the virus crisis probably won’t sway Walton’s decision.
“I’m not sure what’s going to change in the next few weeks with all of these people talking to him,” Novak said. “Kerwin’s better than people think he is, though. He’ll end up doing very well wherever he goes.”