By MIKE CRANSTON, AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Kemba Walker took the NCAA tournament by storm as a dynamic, speedy, nearly unstoppable scoring point guard who helped Connecticut win the national championship.
Just over two months later, the former Huskies star is learning the reality that the NBA is a more demanding place.
Walker was in Charlotte on Friday for the first of many pre-draft workouts. Bobcats owner Michael Jordan was there, along with a gym full of skepticism.
While Walker is expected to go high in the June 23 draft, Bobcats coach Paul Silas said there’s “no doubt” Walker’s
6-foot-1 height is a concern. He wondered whether the Bobcats would want another small point guard– they already have 6-foot D.J. Augustin –and declared the Bobcats wouldn’t attempt to trade up from the No. 9 spot to snag Walker.
“If he drops to nine,” Silas said, “we’d really have to consider him.”
Hardly a ringing endorsement for a guard whose spectacular quickness was no match for most college defenders. He got to the free-throw line, shot well from 3-point range, and led UConn to an unprecedented 11 straight wins to snag the Big East and NCAA crowns.
“I think he could be a good one,” Silas said.
Yet Walker, who acknowledged working out in front of Jordan was a “little nerve-racking,” was in the odd situation of having to make excuses for averaging 23.5 points last season. He averaged only 4.5 assists.
“Last season I had to score for my team out of necessity. But I’m a point guard,” Walker said. “I’m able to score, but I’m also able to get guys involved, too. I think I fit in great with this team.”
The 21-year-old Walker’s junior season at UConn included being named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament. He scored 36 points against San Diego State and 33 against Cincinnati. He had 27 games of 20 or more and even rebounded well (5.4) for his size.
“With speed, it gives me a chance to get to certain places other guards can’t,” he said.
Walker’s dominant season helped give Jim Calhoun a national title in what could have been his final season. The 69-year-old coach is contemplating retirement.
“I think he’s going stay, no question about that,” Walker said. “He just loves the game too much. He’s very passionate about the game.”
People have said the same about Walker, who guided UConn to an unprecedented five wins in five days to take the Big East tournament. But then there are the whispers.
Can Walker become a pass-first point guard? Will his body hold up over an 82-game season? Can he effectively guard the bigger point guards in the league?
“That’s always a concern. It’s a concern with how we have currently,” Silas said, referring to Augustin. “You just have to find a way to help them out and design your defenses so they can’t get hurt.”
Walker’s quickness and toughness may be enough to overcome his 184-pound frame. It’s also hard to overlook what he did in college.
Perhaps fittingly, Walker’s first NBA workout Friday included Butler guard Shelvin Mack. The two squared off in one of the ugliest NCAA title games. Walker shot 5 of 19 from the field and Mack 4 of 15 as UConn won 53-41.
Mack insisted more shots fell Friday.
“You can say that,” he said, smiling.
Walker, too, smiles when people question his size. Yet he’ll likely face similar scrutiny in upcoming workouts with Utah (No. 3 pick), Toronto (5) , Sacramento (7) and Detroit (8).
“I just laugh. I’ve been playing basketball my whole life,” Walker said. “It’s never been an issue. As long as teams like me, I don’t care. If anything, I’ll just adapt and adjust.”
Mike Cranston can be reached at http://twitter.com/MikeCranston1.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)