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Recruiting: St. John’s in hot pursuit of a 2017 big man

St. John’s is suddenly hot on the trail of Derrick Walker; we look into why

Wendell Cruz

The Red Storm, thought to have closed on the 2017 recruiting class over a month ago with the signing of center Zach Brown, is chasing Sunrise Christian Academy forward Derrick Walker, Jr.

Walker, a 6’8”, 220 pound power forward, is from the same Kansas City AAU team that Marvin Clark Jr. played on, Mokan Elite.

St. John’s has a number of weaknesses, but the interior play this year has appeared to be the most troubling. The team’s best rebounder is a wing and a pair of six-foot guards have looked like the best battlers for defensive rebounds.

And with the departure of center Yankuba Sima, the front court is even thinner than was expected for next season, despite the coming addition of Zach Brown from Miami. While likely to make it to St. John’s campus as a very large defensive presence, the seven-footer Brown still has some legal issues hanging over his career, and the Johnnies could use more power forwards who can battle in the paint.

Derrick Walker played for an AAU team with star wing Michael Porter, a likely one-and-done player who committed to the University of Washington to play for Lorenzo Romar (and his father, Michael Porter, a Washington Huskie assistant). Also on the team were Bryan Trimble, who now plays for Florida State, St. Louis commit and top-50 player Carte`Are Gordon, Xavier commit Jared Ridder and Elijah Landrum, who has committed to SMU.

That Mokan Elite team won the 2016 Peach Jam, the top Nike summer tournament.

With that in mind, Walker’s 16 minutes per game, six point-per-game average and four rebound per game average look stronger in context.

Walker is the “dirty work” or “blue collar forward” - in other words, a banger who isn’t always looking for his shots. He’s lauded on ESPN’s scouting service as a high-motor big man who scores off of offensive rebounds and has strong rebounding instincts.

The Red Storm’s rebounding hasn’t been that bad so far, but through no help from the front court, who have struggled. The Johnnies - and Georgia and Tennessee, who are also in pursuit of Derrick Walker - are looking for a player who can do the defensive dirty work on the glass, defend in the post - all without needing touches, as some of the more highly-touted forwards likely would want.

To be fair, the St. John’s big men can get better this year.

Certainly, Kassoum Yakwe has the talent. In limited time, Darien Williams and Richard Freudenberg have had decent games on the glass, while Tariq Owens can battle when he can stay out of foul trouble. Amar Alibegovic had a good defensive rebounding game, but rarely makes his presence known on the glass. Marvin Clark, though undersized, was a solid rebounder in limited minutes at Michigan State.

But Darien Williams is expected to leave after this season as a senior (though he should be eligible for at least one more season per NCAA rules). With that in mind, Chris Mullin could use a player who can compete inside and allow more roster versatility.

St. John’s has done a good job of landing prospects earlier in the cycle so they can more fully concentrate if they need a late recruit, as Walker is. Walker has received more high level offers in recent months - he was down to UIC, Ball State, Akron, Oral Roberts, Wichita State and others over the summer.

Now he’s hearing from St. John’s, Tennessee, Georgia, Iowa State and TCU.

With only five official visits to use, Walker has already officially visited Ball State, Illinois-Chicago, Oral Roberts and Akron, Rivals.

He commented to Rivals on St. John’s that Chris Mullin’s program is “getting better. They are moving in the right direction with their new coach. They have a couple guys that can really score.”

Walker, who played football in the past, is ranked at 252 in the 247 Sports composite ranking. His Future 150 profile notes strong rebounding, upper body strength and post footwork.

Derrick Walker highlight videos

Derrick Walker Peach Jam highlights via Rivals

2016 Nike EYBL

2015 Derrick Walker highlights