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Walker too good to pass up for UK Hoops

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4475984.jpegIn the days leading up to Monday's official announcement that freshman superstar Samarie Walker was leaving Connecticut and transferring to Kentucky, much was made about Walker's commitment, or lack thereof, to basketball.

In a statement from UConn's Geno Auriemma, the legendary coach said, "The coaching staff has known for quite some time that Samarie is struggling with her commitment level to basketball."

Auriemma has also said Walker has been losing her passion for basketball since the 10th grade.

Make of that what you will, Walker was too good of a player for head coach Matthew Mitchell and the Kentucky women's basketball team to pass up.

Whatever personal issues Walker is going through right now - all of which would be unfair for this writer to speculate on - when a kid like Walker comes knocking at your door, you answer. You shake their hand. You let them in.

And that's exactly what Mitchell did. Upon UK's return from Thursday night's Florida win, the coaching staff received a release indicating Walker was going to transfer.

After recruiting Walker heavily out of West Carrollton, Ohio, and with the familiarity between the program and player, Mitchell wasted to time in pulling the trigger.

"We were on the phone with her that day as soon as we got the release," Mitchell said. "It moved pretty quickly after that. She was at a spot where she had to make a pretty quick decision, so we were fortunate that we already had a relationship with her, she had been on campus, it's close to her home and she had a comfort level with us."

Just about every coach in America would salivate for the chance to have the services of Walker. Once rated the top prospect in the 2010 class, Walker was ranked the 10th-best player in ESPN HoopGurlz final rankings.

Schools like Rutgers, Duke, Georgia, Maryland and Kentucky all made a run at the prized 6-foot-1 prospect last year, but UConn, the game's top program over the last decade, won the battle.

Or so it seemed.

Walker played in 17 games for the Huskies this season, averaging 6.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in 18.8 minutes per game. She was a part of UConn's record-breaking win streak, which reached 90 wins before Stanford finally ended it. Walker was expected to be the centerpiece of any future UConn runs.

But for whatever reason, Walker just never felt at home in Storrs, Conn. Media speculation has centered on the belief that Walker wanted to play closer to her home and family in West Carrollton, and Mitchell said that, along with the familiarity of the UK program, certainly played a factor.

"Transfers are just a part of college life," Mitchell said. "We've been very fortunate that we've had Crystal Riley and Keyla Snowden come to us by way of transfer. It's been a great thing for our program."

Mitchell did not seem at all concerned about Walker's commitment to basketball or her passion level.

"I don't think that she would have wanted to act so quickly (if she wasn't committed to basketball)," Mitchell said. "She had to get a lot done in a short period of time for this to work out, so that doesn't signal to me that she's not motivated. I just think it doesn't work out sometimes. Sometimes you make a decision that doesn't work out in life and you have to regroup and go a different direction. I'm not anymore concerned about that than I am with any of our players. I made sure the passion level is right and the commitment is right."

When you consider what UK will lose next year, Walker could fill the gap from this season to next. An athletic, lengthy, swing forward, Walker, at least physically, fits the mold for Mitchell's full-court, up-tempo style of play.

"She was just real aggressive and very skilled offensively," Mitchell said of what he saw from Walker when he recruited her in high school. "She scored a lot, rebounded the ball a lot. She's clearly a talented player."

Though the Cats will lose Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Victoria Dunlap next year, A'dia Mathies, Keyla Snowden and a crop full of freshmen, including Jennifer O'Neill and Bernisha Pinkett, will return. When you throw in the additions of Walker and 2011 signess Azia Bishop and Bria Goss, Kentucky may not miss a beat next year.

"She definitely has the talent that helps soften that blow," Mitchell said. "I'll let everybody know when I see another Victoria Dunlap walk through the door, so I don't know when that will happen. I expect that void will be filled by a collection of people rather than just one person, but (Walker) will give us some depth in the front court that we'll definitely need."

Walker won't be eligible until after the fall semester due to NCAA transfer rules, but she will be allowed to practice with team immediately. Similar to the transfers of Riley and Snowden and the deferred enrollment of Pinkett, Walker will have plenty of time to get acclimated to the program.

"It's been a stressful few weeks for her, and now she can come in and work hard every day in practice, keep her basketball skills sharp while also having time to see what the style is and get integrated into the program without the added pressure of playing and figuring all that out at the drop of a hat," Mitchell said. "I think it's a really good situation for her and I think we've seen good results with people (in the past)."

When you take that all into consideration, whatever commitment issues she may or may not be having seem worth the risk. This was simply an opportunity just too good for Kentucky to pass up.

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