In 2011, Kemba Walker turned heads while leading UConn to the national title.
How much did that improve his draft stock?
Three months before the 2011 NBA draft, the Charlotte Bobcats had already crossed Kemba Walker off their wish list.
Charlotte spent a lottery pick on point guard D.J. Augustin in 2008 and still envisioned him as its starter for years to come. Team officials saw no reason to add a second undersized point guard when the franchise was coming off a 48-loss season and had more pressing needs at other positions.
The biggest reason Walker emerged as a potential option for Charlotte was that he captured the attention of Bobcats owner Michael Jordan over the course of a dazzling postseason run. He averaged 24.6 points and immortalized himself in college basketball history by carrying UConn to an unprecedented five wins in five days at the Big East tournament and to an improbable national championship three weeks later.
By the time Walker smiled and pumped his fist in triumph during the final seconds of college basketball’s 2011 national title game, Jordan was adamant that, positions of need be damned, this was the player Charlotte should target. A source familiar with Charlotte’s thinking at the time believes Walker reminded Jordan of himself because of his knack for clutch shots and thirst to win.
“Michael Jordan fell in love with Kemba because of how great Kemba was in the NCAA tournament, the source said. “Michael’s the greatest competitor of all time. Michael saw a little bit of the competitiveness that he had in Kemba. As good as Connecticut was at that time, they couldn’t have done it if Kemba hadn’t put that team on his back. I think Michael placed such a high value on that.”
That worked out well for Charlotte, which drafted Walker No. 9 in 2011. Walker has become a star with the Hornets.
But that approach often backfires, as teams read too much into small samples and conflate team success with individual potential. Those flaws generally outweigh someone’s perceived competitiveness in the biggest spotlight.
In fact, the approach probably bit the Hornets a few years later. They declined a monster trade offer from the Celtics (who wanted another tournament star, Justise Winslow) to draft Kaminsky No. 9 in 2015. Kaminsky led Wisconsin to the title-game that year (losing to Winslow’s Duke), but hasn’t neared that success in the pros.