Big 12 Campus Correspondent
A.J. Walton likes food, but recently, the freshman guard has been digesting much more than meals.
The 6-foot-1-inch newcomer is quickly growing into a Big 12 floor general by taking in every morsel of information he can glean from Baylor’s senior point guard and former McDonald’s All-American, Tweety Carter.
“He has made me a better player,” Walton said of Carter’s guidance. “He helps me learn when to do things and when not to do things. He has really helped me on defense because having to go against an All-American point guard every day has helped me out.”
With that defensive prowess, Walton has found a niche on a Baylor team that is loaded with scoring talent. He has led the Bears with 29 steals through their first 24 games.
“He knows when he gets in we need defense and for him to take care of the ball,” Carter said. “I think he does a great job of just being patient and taking what the defense gives him.”
Over the past three seasons, Baylor Head Coach Scott Drew has had a plethora of guards who could score the basketball, but in Walton, Drew sees a desire to lockdown opponents.
“He is somebody whose hat has always rested on defensive intensity,” Drew said. “He is a very good passer, his ball handling has improved and his shooting has improved, but he takes pride in his defense.”
Walton did not start the season as a defensive spark plug. Instead, he was the starting point guard for Baylor in the first four games of the season while Carter was out. In those opening games, Walton averaged 6.75 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals to help the Bears start 4-0.
“The first four games, I was playing a lot,” Walton said. “I was leading the Big 12 in minutes and that is what I was used to. Then I started coming off the bench, my minutes went down, which is something I am not used to.”
With the decrease in minutes, Walton’s production suffered as he failed to score in eight of the next 11 games and did not record a steal in nine of those games. However, through it all, Walton said his “big brother” Carter was encouraging him to keep playing and reminding him that the team still needed him.
That need finally arose in Baylor’s biggest win of the season when the Bears beat the sixth-ranked Texas Longhorns in Austin for the first time since 1998. Walton tallied career highs with 14 points and six steals while draining 3-of-4 free throws in the last 17 seconds of overtime to seal the 80-77 Baylor win.
“You never know when you are going to have a big game,” Walton said. “I just felt like I needed to go out there and do whatever I could to help us win. I gave it my heart on defense, had a couple steals and got rolling. I was feeling good.”
The Little Rock, Ark.-native got his start in basketball in the second grade when he stepped onto the floor as a shooting guard with the North Little Rock Boys Club.
During his high school years at Hall High, Walton led his team to four conference championships, a state championship in 2008 and a runner-up finish in 2009. He was also honored as All-Arkansas Mr. Basketball as a junior.
When the Bears made a trip to face the University of Arkansas earlier this year, it was a coming-home party for Walton.
“It was pretty exciting,” Walton said. “I got to see my family and friends at the game. I think I had 32 people on my ticket list. It was a great experience.”
One of the people in the crowd was Walton’s father, Anthony Walton, who has not missed one of his son’s games in 19 years.
While his dad is his best friend, Walton’s love for food came from his mother, Loretta.
“I like to eat it all,” Walton said. “Down-south cooking is the best and I do love sweet potato pie, but I am not picky. My mom always told me, ‘you are going to have to go off to college one day, and I am not going to be there for you,’ so anytime I was able to get in the kitchen and help, I was in there.”
Halfway into his inaugural Big 12 campaign, Walton has settled into his role and has gotten comfortable.
“It takes all freshmen some time to adjust to Big 12 play because the arenas are so much more intense and the level of play just goes up,” Drew said. “You are scouted more, so things don’t come as easily. I think the first couple of games in the Big 12, he got his feet wet. Now, he is producing.”
Carter has no doubts that his understudy can become an elite player in the league.
“A.J. is a guy that wants to get better and will do anything to get better,” Carter said. “He is just so fun to be around, and his joy allows him to get better and better everyday. He is young, but he comes out and works hard everyday, so I think he has a chance to be great.”
When asked whether he is ready to fill the shoes of Carter next year, Walton replied, “Oh yeah, most definitely.”