Ja'Kobe Walter is earning his spot as an elite prospect in the class of 2023 | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Saturday / October 23.
  • Ja’Kobe Walter is earning his spot as an elite prospect in the class of 2023

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    By JACOB POLACHECK

    Ja’Kobe Walter isn’t the type of player to blow you away with flashiness and flair, but with a smooth shooting touch, a high basketball IQ and incredible size for his position, it’s impossible to deny his status as one of 2023’s best prospects. 

    “If I do something, people may think I’m coming off as too aggressive,” Walter said. “But it’s really just the fact that I care a lot about what I’m doing and I’m usually trying to put my all into it.”

    Even as a toddler, Walter would bounce the ball around at halftime of his father’s pickup games in McKinney, Texas, eagerly awaiting his time to play organized basketball for himself. 

    In just a couple years, at the age of four, Walter got that opportunity, playing with the Yellow Jackets, a local youth team. 

    It was with the Yellow Jackets that Walter’s basketball skills were truly put on display, weaving through defenders and shooting mid-range jumpers from the free throw line. 

    “I remember just hearing parents say ‘Is he our kids’ age? He’s too good to be out there. Why is he out there with our kids?’,” Walter’s mother, Sabrina, said. 

    Walter’s early success on the basketball court came as no surprise to his mother, especially given his family lineage. 

    Walter’s father, Eddie, played with Birmingham-Southern from 1994-96, earning the nickname “The Web” for his well-documented ability to rack up steals. Walter ended his career as the program’s all-time steals leader with 194, a record that would not be broken until Blaise White surpassed his mark in 2013.  

    “He influenced me and made me start to get a dog mentality and become a hustle guy,” Ja’Kobe said. “He really passed that on to me that I have to do the same and be the guy to do all the dirty work.”

    With this mentality, Walter hasn’t shied away from leading his team to tough wins over talented opponents, including a thrilling matchup with Texas 5A state champion Beaumont United (TX).

    “Ja’Kobe was able to show his leadership and carry his team against a star-studded team with Wesley Yates and Terrence Arceneaux,” Walter’s former AAU coach and current JL3 Elite coach Alex Franklin said. 

    Standing at 6-foot-5, 180-pounds, Walter has a slim-frame which allows him to create space and score on all three levels. 

    Yet, just a few years ago, many predicted Walter would take a different route, setting his sights on the gridiron rather than the basketball court, excelling all across the field. 

    “We were leaning towards football because he started out playing wide receiver, running back and safety,” Sabrina said. “Because there was no one on the team to throw the ball, he became the quarterback.” 

    Once Ja’Kobe started his freshman year at McKinney High School in McKinney, TX, he finally made the decision to focus his attention solely on the game of basketball. 

    “I don’t know if he even discussed it with us. He just said I’m done with football,” Sabrina said. “At that moment, I guess, I realized he’s chosen. He’s chosen basketball. It’s all in now.”  

    Since that decision, Walter’s recruitment has ramped up. Helping him through this process has been George Clay, who met Ja’Kobe last summer with Drive Nation, before joining forces again as the head coach of Team Trae Young’s U-17 squad this summer. 

    “The people that have seen him see the ability and talent that he has,” Clay said. “I don’t know that there are a lot of things that are misunderstood about him. His work ethic is impeccable.”

    With the help of Clay, Walter has emerged as one of the high school basketball’s most well-regarded prospects, with offers reaching the double-digits. 

    “It’s been a wild ride, so far,” Sabrina said. “And I’m pretty sure it’s going to get wilder.” 

    This wild ride can largely be traced back to June 22, 2020 in what started as a normal call between Ja’Kobe and Baylor assistant coach Alvin Brooks III

    “We were just talking normally, catching up, talking about life and school ball,” Walter said. “He said, ‘hold on, let me put coach (Scott) Drew on the call’.” 

    With his freshman year in the rearview, Walter hadn’t even started thinking about offers, but it was at that moment he came to the realization that he may have a future in the game of basketball. 

    “Coach Drew started asking questions like ‘do you know how much it costs to go to college at Baylor?’,” Ja’Kobe said. “He said, ‘we’d like to offer you a full-ride scholarship’.” 

    It didn’t take long for more schools to follow suit. 

    A little over a year later, Walter has been offered by some of college basketball’s top programs. And with Alabama, Gonzaga, Texas, Oklahoma State and Auburn remaining heavily involved, Walter took the time to break down each school: 

    Alabama: “They told me they don’t think there’s anyone else in the country in my class that will fit their system better since they like to shoot the three ball. They let their guys work off the dribble. They’ve seen my games and have seen me do it just how they do it in college. Of course, that’s my home state. I’m just blessed to be talking to them.” 

    Gonzaga: “Coach (Stephen) Gentry, he’s a very cool dude. We talk everytime something good goes on at Gonzaga. He showed me the locker room, campus, staff and all that. They were just in the championship game and that’s why they stand out too. That means they’re doing something good behind closed doors.” 

    Texas: “I just watched them and saw how they were letting a freshman like Greg Brown work. If I went there then I know they would be comfortable with playing a freshman.” 

    Oklahoma State: “They always tell me I could be the next Cade Cunningham. He was a freshman and they developed him very well. He won freshman of the year. Their pitch has been that they can develop me just like Cade. They think I fit their system very well. They let their guards work also.” 

    Auburn: “Coach (Wes) Flanigan said they need another player that they think they can build around and take them deep. They want a player they can build around like they did with Sharife Cooper. Coach Flanigan really believes that I can be that guy and I can help take them far.” 

    That’s not to mention the schools Walter has already had the opportunity to see in-person, taking unofficial visits to Baylor and Oklahoma. 

    “Oklahoma, that was my first visit,” he said. “You just don’t really think about being in the position around the people you see on TV. I think it’s really cool and I’ve enjoyed it.” 

    Shortly after his trip to Oklahoma, Walter made his way to Baylor to visit with the defending NCAA National Champions.

    “Then, the next thing you know, I’m talking to a national champion in coach (Scott) Drew and seeing their culture,” he said.

    Walter also took an unofficial visit to SMU and was planning a visit to Oklahoma State before pushing the trip back due to COVID concerns. 

    “I’m supposed to go to Oklahoma State in the fall and was planning on trying to get to Texas and Texas Tech,” he said. 

    Looking to take visits soon, Walter is already eying a decision down the road, but don’t expect it anytime soon. 

    “My family and I have talked about it,” he said. “I’ll probably make my decision going into my senior year, at the end of the summer of my junior year. Right now, I’m still staying in the gym, not really trying to make a decision anytime soon.”

    Instead, Walter is looking to continue his dominant performance with Team Trae Young on the Adidas 3-Stripe Select Basketball circuit. 

    With his excellent play this summer, Walter has risen to the No. 16 overall spot in 247Sports’ class of 2023 player rankings, cementing his status as the nation’s No. 3 shooting guard. 

    Even as Walter continues to establish himself as one of the nation’s top prospects, Sabrina still worries about her son. 

    “Because of a lot of the stuff that goes on in the world today, he hasn’t experienced racism,” Sabrina said. “He hasn’t experienced somebody blurting out, calling him names and turning him down for anything.” 

    Photo: @JanSalmonVisuals

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