In 2005, the next LeBron James was supposed to be Demetrius Walker.
Remember him? Ever heard of him?
Well, I don't blame you. Because unless you remember an article from Sports Illustrated back in 2005 or you follow the Pac-10 pretty closely, the name Demetrius Walker probably means nothing to you.
As a 14 year old, Walker was widely considered the best eighth-grader in the country. He was bigger than everyone else, he was stronger than most high school seniors, and he was athletic enough that 360 dunks were easy. He was taken under the wing of Joe Keller, an AAU coach out in Southern California that was looking to ride the gravy train of the next Kobe Bryant.
But Walker never hit the growth spurt. the 6'3", 175 lb eighth grader headed to Arizona State as a 6'3", 195 lb freshman. Now, a scholarship to play in the Pac-10 is nothing to shake a stick at. If your ability to play a sport means that you can get a free education, than you are pretty darn good at that sport.
Walker wasn't just supposed to play the sport, however. He was supposed to be a star. He was supposed to be one of the kids that uses college as a layover to the NBA. He wasn't supposed to see time in just 23 games, to only start a single game, and to average just four points for a team that was in the middle of the pack in a bad Pac-10. He wasn't supposed to be the kid that was forced to transfer because he couldn't crack the rotation and was being recruited over.
Why do I bring this up now?
George Dohrmann, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has spent eight years getting to know Walker and Keller. And on October 5th, his book -- Play Their Hearts Out -- chronicling those eight years will be released. This week's SI will feature an excerpt from the book.
Five years after the nation's preeminent sports magazine crowned him the heir to the basketball throne, Walker will be returning to SI in an excerpt from a book that chronicled his fall from superstardom. The book's release and the publication of this week's SI also happen to correspond to the year that Walker is sitting out at New Mexico as a redshirt.
Ironic, ain't it?
This is why I have always been against the recruitment and analysis of kids before they reach high school. Why? Because they are still kids. They are children. Very few 14 year old males have hit puberty, or hit their growth spurt. The ones that have -- the kids that develop early and get their strength, their athleticism, their size, and their five o'clock shadow while still in middle school -- tend to be the ones that dominate at the level.
Demetrius Walker in just one example.
How about Taylor King? The one time UCLA commit and former Duke Blue Devil and Villanova Wildcat is now playing at an NAIA school now. Or maybe Derrick Caracter? Once considered the best prospect in the country, Caracter loafed his way out of Louisville, needing to resurrect his career at UTEP for the right to fight for a roster spot at the end of the Laker's bench.
Walker is a tremendous athlete that will become a college graduate for free while competing at one of the highest levels of the sport. He is far from a failure.
But I wonder how many people few him that way?