Basketball, Commentary, Sports

Lonnie Walker IV proving to be NBA player in the making

Lonnie Walker IV

Hurricanes freshman Lonnie Walker IV floats through the air for the layup against the Duke Blue Devils Jan. 15 at the Watsco Center. Miami surrendered a 13-point lead in the final eight minutes and lost 80-74. Photo credit: Hunter Crenian

Lonnie Walker IV’s stock is rising with professional scouts, and there’s a growing chance that he will play in the NBA come fall 2018.

After averaging just under 18 points and shooting 41 percent on three-pointers over his last seven games, the freshman and three-time ACC Rookie of the Week is projected to be selected with the No. 17 pick to the New Orleans Pelicans in the latest 2018 mock draft as of Feb. 5, according to nbadraft.net.

Walker, who is from Reading, Pennsylvania, hasn’t talked about whether or not he intends to turn pro after the 2017-2018 season. But he is only looking better and more comfortable with each game, and if the trend continues, it’s hard to see him passing up a chance to be a high first-round draft pick.

Walker could be the first Miami Hurricane ever selected in the top 14, which would make him the first lottery pick in program history. He would also be the fifth drafted in the first round.

“He’s only scratching the surface of how good he can become,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga said. “He’s got himself in a really good place mentally. I’m real proud of the way he is growing as a player and as a teammate.”

Walker, a consensus five-star recruit, was faced with high expectations from the moment he stepped onto the University of Miami campus. He hit a roadblock in July 2017 when he suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee that kept him out three months.

The 6-foot-5 guard got off to a slow start during the first two months of the season, scoring just 8.1 points per game in 15 games.

Some attributed his early struggles to the recovery process from his injury, while others associated them with the difficulty adjusting to the college game and coming off the bench.

But Walker is a consistent starter now and has clearly found his rhythm. He has upped his intensity on both sides of the court and has led the Hurricanes in shot attempts in five of their last seven games. This new role has allowed him to flourish and take over on any given night.

Lonnie Walker IV

Freshman Lonnie Walker IV skies for two of his 25 points against the Louisville Cardinals. Miami would go on to win 78-75 Jan. 24 at the Watsco Center. Walker was just one point shy of his career high. Photo credit: Josh White

“At this point, I don’t really feel like I’m fully a freshman anymore,” Walker said. “I have grown a lot these past few months. I know what I can do, and my teammates know what I can do.”

Given that he has NBA-level size, athleticism and scoring ability, the fact he is starting to put up big numbers shouldn’t surprise anyone.

But what is extra impressive has been Walker’s capability to will a team to victory, which is a mentality that can’t be taught. In close game situations against Louisville, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech, he took matters into his own hands, leading Miami with scoring runs all by himself.

“I don’t like trailing – I don’t like losing at all,” Walker said after a win against Pittsburgh. “I kind of get into my tunnel vision mode to the point where I just feel like I have to take over. I can do whatever I want to do if I put my mind to it.”

Lonnie Walker IV

Freshman guard Lonnie Walker IV switches hands to convert the acrobatic layup around two defenders to tie the game at 69 apiece with 4.8 seconds remaining Jan. 24 at the Watsco Center. The Hurricanes won 78-75 over the Cardinals. Photo credit: Josh White

One of Walker’s late game shots against Pittsburgh came from the Miami court logo – a shot that would have been considered a long three-pointer even by NBA standards.

It went straight through the center of the basket.

“I don’t really believe in the word pressure,” Walker said. “It’s all about picking things up to another level.”

He has impacted games on defense, too, providing game-saving blocks in back-to-back matchups against Louisville and Florida State.

“I think his game is elevated because his confidence is up,” Larrañaga said. “His knowledge of what we’re doing and what he is expected to do is up. We have been running several plays for him, and he has been delivering.”

The NBA Draft is in June, and if Walker chooses to declare at season’s end, many teams will have their eyes on him.

February 5, 2018

Reporters

Isaiah Kim-Martinez

Isaiah Kim-Martinez can be reached on Twitter at @isaiah_km.


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