ASU-bound Kyree Walker is ready for a high school basketball relaunch in Arizona with his help from dad Khari. Video: Richard Obert/azcentral sports
Khari Walker is always on the court. Whether it’s instructing, videotaping or taking pictures, the big man is a big presence.
He stands out. Not just because he is 6 feet, 9 inches.
Walker has always driven kids to be the best, working them in club ball in northern California.
His biggest project is his son, Kyree, a 6-6, 205-pound dynamo guard who recently committed to Arizona State. Kyree Walker was named by MaxPreps last basketball season as the National Freshman of the Year, after averaging 21.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, four assists and 1.6 steals for Hayward (Calif.) Moreau Catholic.
Along with point guard Damari Milstead, Moreau won the North Coast Section and Northern California Division II championships.
Now Milstead is beginning college life at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, where the team will play in exhibitions in Spain in August.
Walker made the move to Phoenix from the Bay area last month with his dad, trying to get acclimated to the scorching heat and settling in at Hillcrest Prep, a national prep academy that has a Nike sponsorship. Hillcrest is in transition for the first time since it began playing two years ago, bringing in new coaches and dealing with the loss of 7-footer DeAndre Ayton, who was one of the top 2017 players in the country and is now at Arizona.
Khari Walker made the move for his son after joining Hillcrest as an associate coach.
He isn’t the boisterous dad like LaVar Ball, who has coached and elevated his three sons in southern California to near mythical proportions with claims and predictions that many find outrageous.
But Khari is there every step of the way for Kyree.
RELATED: Kyree Walker’s 360 dunk on pass off side of backboard
“Everybody has their opinion of him,” Khari Walker said of LaVar Ball. “But one thing I haven’t heard anybody say, ‘He wasn’t afraid.’ He wasn’t afraid to do something different than the normal.
“You can say what you want, but it’s working. Some of the things he has said, I wouldn’t do. It’s like WWE, some people are fans of it and some people aren’t fans of it. … He’s putting a lot of companies on notice.”
Before the NBA draft, before oldest son Lonzo was taken second overall by the Los Angeles Lakers after his freshman season at UCLA, LaVar Ball turned away Nike, adidas and Under Armour for his son to wear LaVar’s Big Baller Brand shoes.
“Nobody’s brand ever blew up overnight,” Walker said. “It’s always taken time. Look at Ralph Lauren … I don’t agree with everything that he’s said or done. But I commend him for be willing to do that. That takes huge guts.”
Kyree Walker credits his dad for helping his rapid national basketball rise.
He said even when his dad is in the stands for his games, he can feel his father’s presence. There would be a connection through sign language.
“He’s always involved,” Kyree said. “It doesn’t matter where he’s at. We’d be in the whirlpool, anywhere. He might be in the nose-bleeds (seats) and I still probably could see him, see what he’s talking about.
“I’m always making sure he’s around. It’s like my best friend. I’m always able to talk to him about anything.”
Khari recently videotaped a 360 dunk Kyree threw down from a pass off the side of the backboard at Phoenix Precision High’s gym. It was so sensational that USA TODAY featured it.
Hillcrest’s national high school basketball players take courses and receive housing at Precision, a charter school that once was part of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, but now has its own team in the Canyon Athletic Association.
“He’s a humble kid, he works hard,” Khari said of Kyree. “He wants to be the best that he can be.
“One of the main reasons (for the move to Hillcrest) was for preparation to the next level. The teams that they play is high-level competition. That makes you better.”
Hillcrest competes in “Grind Sessions” all over the country against the best prep academies. This year, Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep has agreed to play Hillcrest for the first time.
After making the move from Phoenix St. Mary’s to Hillcrest for his senior season, forward K.J. Hymes is already benefitting from the Walker connection.
Khari has already helped improve Hymes’ agility and speed. And Hymes feels playing with Kyree will make him better, as well.
“(Kyree is) very athletic,” Hymes said. “He can play the 1. He can play the 2. He has the size to play the 3. He’s really explosive. He’s got a good court IQ. He comes over to our house pretty often. For all of the accomplishments that he has, he’s a pretty humble guy.”
After Kyree moved to the Valley, a visit to see ASU coach Bobby Hurley made for a quick decision to commit to the Sun Devils. He had about 20 offers, including Arizona.
“He’s a player’s coach,” Kyree said of Hurley. “For no other reason, he’s a good coach. It would be different if somebody else was there. But it’s Bobby Hurley. He played at Duke. Made Final Fours. Played with Christian Laettner. It’s wild. He learned from the best. So why not pick his brain and learn from him?”
Kyree said it hasn’t crossed his mind about reclassifying to 2019, but he believes Hurley will still be at ASU by the time he is done with high school.
“I’m a big point guard myself,” Kyree said. “He’s going to make me see the point, different sizes, where to throw the ball and where not to throw the ball.”
Kyree says he has heard negative comments about his age compared to others in his class, but he feeds off of those.
“It’s another chance to start over,” he said. “I thank God for the opportunity. Anything I did wrong in California, I can make right here. … A lot of people think, ‘Oh, he came here because he’s too old.’ I came here to get better. I’m going to make it to the pros. That’s my dream. Me coming here is going to make that dream happen.”
RELATED: Kyree Walker, National Freshman of the Year, commits to ASU
MORE: National Freshman of the Year Kyree Walker joining Hillcrest Prep
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Recent NCAA rules changes allow schools to cover the full cost of attending college. Schools are taking advantage, and they increased spending on athletics-related financial aid by 8.8%
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