- M.J. Walker is the latest five-star recruit to commit to Florida State over bigger basketball brands. How will he fare in his freshman season?
It should come as no surprise to college basketball fans that freshmen have come to possess a significant portion of the star power in the sport. Just look at this year’s NBA draft, where the first upperclassman was not selected until Duke sophomore Luke Kennard with the No. 12 pick. So while some returning players will undoubtedly have a major impact in the 2017–18 season, it’s important to get to know the new faces who may come to occupy the spotlight. With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top 25 incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. We move to the No. 24 overall recruit, Florida State’s M.J. Walker. (Note: Walker was ranked No. 23 in the composite before Marvin Bagley III’s reclassification bumped every freshman in the country down a peg.)
WHAT HE MEANS FOR FLORIDA STATE'S RECRUITING CLASS
Walker is the latest in a series of top-flight recruits who spurned offers from bigger basketball brands to play for the Seminoles. (They signed five-star power forward Jonathan Isaac in 2016 and five-star small forward Dwayne Bacon in 2015.) Florida State had already reeled in a solid group of 2017 prospects before Walker’s commitment in late May: four-star center Ike Obiagu, four-star small forward Anthony Polite and three-star power forwards RaiQuan Gray and Wyatt Wilkes. Walker is a cut above even Obiagu, a 7-foot shot-blocking ace, and his addition puts the Seminoles in the conversation for the ACC’s second-best class behind Duke’s.
HOW HE FITS
Florida State’s three biggest possession-users (Isaac, Bacon and junior guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes) jumped to the pros this spring, so Walker may be in position to command a lot of shots right away. With a sturdy frame that will facilitate the adjustment to bigger, stronger defenders, Walker should hit the ground running as a basket-attacking, wing-scoring threat. He’ll have help on the perimeter from players like guards C.J. Walker, Trent Forrest and Terrance Mann. It may not be enough to make up for all the firepower that left Tallahassee in the offseason, but Walker and the returnees should be able to prevent the Seminoles’ offense from falling too far from its strong ACC finish in 2017.
Florida State will take a step back after winning 26 games, earning a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament and ranking No. 26 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency last season. How large that step is will depend on whether Walker, Forrest and Mann can shoulder bigger workloads and how well Walker’s game translates to the college level. Even if the answer to the latter is “very well,” the Seminoles seem unlikely to even sniff the top four of the ACC standings; Louisville, Duke, North Carolina, Miami and Notre Dame should vie for the conference title. Yet, another trip to the NCAAs is not an unreasonable goal to shoot for.