In the summer of 2011, during the NBA lockout, the Sacramento Kings’ Jason Thompson, a Mount Laurel, N.J., native, was looking for a place to stay in shape. He landed at Cabrini, where Walton-Moss was among the people he chose to play ball with—thanks to a 52-point eruption by Walton-Moss in a pro-am game staged at Rutgers University-Camden a few weeks earlier. Kahn was watching the players work out, and he noticed Walton-Moss. He asked about him and was told he should recruit him. “I said, ‘He’s Division III? No way,’” Kahn says. “But I was told he just needed a home.”
Kahn spoke to Walton-Moss, who’d tired of retail and hanging around the house, no matter how happy he was to be a father. The coach made an offer, and he headed for Radnor. Because it took awhile to get his application together and make sure he had everything he needed to start classes, Walton-Moss didn’t show up at Cabrini until the second semester of the 2011-12 school year. But that didn’t stop him from making an immediate impact on the court. The Cavs reached the national championship game, losing to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Walton-Moss was voted Rookie of the Year by www.d3hoops.com.
His on-court success was immediate, but Walton-Moss struggled with his new suburban home. After spending his entire life in the city, the Main Line was a huge change. “Nothing is close by,” he says. “It’s all spaced out. In the city, you have a store on the corner. Here, you have to go a couple blocks.”
Walton-Moss also had trouble acclimating to the academics. Because he started playing basketball the minute he stepped onto campus, and the Cavaliers spent a lot of time away from campus during their title-game run, his grades sagged, and he became ineligible for the first half of the 2012-13 season. “One of his biggest problems was knowing how to go about asking for help and finding it,” McDonald says. “I would ask him how things were going, and he’d say, ‘Good.’ Everything was good until the grades came out.”
Walton-Moss was voted third-team all-American as a sophomore. Opponents struggled with his straight-ahead style, which has origins in his love of football. “If you’d asked me when I was 16 what I thought I would be doing, I would’ve said I’d be playing quarterback for Virginia Tech,” says Walton-Moss.
During his freshman and sophomore years at Camden High, he played middle linebacker and delighted in the contact. But basketball began to grab more of his attention. By the time he was a senior, he’d left the gridiron for good.
Cabrini, for one, is happy he did. The Cavaliers didn’t advance too far in last year’s tournament, but Walton-Moss established himself as the nation’s best. This year, he’ll combine with former Camden teammate Vinny Walls for a potent attack. McDonald may stress defense a little more than his predecessor did, but with talent like Walton-Moss and Walls, it would be silly not to turn them loose. Walton-Moss has worked hard to be a more diverse offensive threat.
“He’s a way better three-point shooter than he was,” says McDonald. “If he catches the ball beyond the three-point line, and they’re not guarding him, he’ll make it.”
While Cabrini seeks bigger postseason success, Walton-Moss is getting more comfortable with his environs. Though he could’ve transferred to a bigger school, he felt an obligation to stay with the Cavaliers. “They took a chance on me,” he says.
“He’s a laid-back guy. He’s a comedian and likes to joke around,” says Walls, a 6-foot-1 junior guard whose father, Kevin, once scored 81 in a game while at Camden. “He takes care of his daughter and is always on the phone with her.”
The Cavaliers began the season ranked 20th in the nation, and they must integrate a variety of new faces into their lineup. Walton-Moss has no such adjustment to make. Now more capable of damaging defenses with his complete offensive game, he aims to end a four-year college career that seemed almost impossible when he left Camden. “Talent speaks for itself,” he says. “It doesn’t matter where you are or on what level you play. If you’re good, they’ll find you.”
Just like Cabrini found Walton-Moss. And Aryiaina.