New UNC coach Hubert Davis’s pursuit comes up empty as transfer Walker Kessler picks Auburn
CHAPEL HILL — New North Carolina basketball coach Hubert Davis’s pursuit of returning Walker Kessler to the Tar Heels has come up empty.
Kessler, the 7-foot-1 former North Carolina forward, committed to Auburn on Monday, choosing to join coach Bruce Pearl’s program three weeks to the day after entering his name in the NCAA transfer portal.
“I am excited to play for a great coach at an awesome school and be close to home and my family,” Kessler wrote in a social media post. “War Eagle!”
Along with Auburn, Gonzaga and North Carolina were considered to be most prominently in the mix for landing the freshman Kessler’s services — or re-acquiring his services, in the Tar Heels’ case.
He becomes the third recent addition from the portal for Auburn, which went 13-14 overall this past season and 6-11 in the Southeastern Conference. Auburn also has picked up transfers in College of Charleston guard Zep Jasper and Eastern Kentucky guard Wendell Green Jr.
Davis used a segment of his formal introduction as North Carolina’s coach to make his intentions toward Kessler public, openly disclosing in something of a recruiting pitch that he would be seeking to reconnect with the big man, then a transfer-in-waiting, and bring him back to Chapel Hill.
“I want Walker here. He’s a Carolina guy,” Davis said last week at the Smith Center. “I’ve enjoyed being one of his coaches last year. He’s a wonderful kid. I can’t think of anybody better to be around. An unbelievable charismatic personality, and somebody that just wants to get better and to work every day.”
Davis had text message and phone call conversations last week with Kessler, who averaged 4.4 points and 3.2 rebounds per game this past season as the fourth option in North Carolina’s deep frontline rotation, behind Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks and Day’Ron Sharpe.
Kessler produced 8.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game across North Carolina’s final 11 games.
“He’s a Tar Heel, he’s always a Tar Heel,” Davis said last week. “He needs to come back here, and this is the right place for him. We would love to have Walker Kessler and his family back in Chapel Hill and back at UNC.”
Auburn was a finalist to sign Kessler as a high school senior, when he starred for Woodward Academy and earned the state of Georgia’s Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year honors, and McDonald’s All-American recognition.
He’s from Newnan, Ga., a little more than 70 miles from Auburn’s campus in Alabama. Kessler’s father (Chad Kessler), brother (Houston Kessler) and uncle (Alec Kessler) all played college basketball in the SEC for Georgia.
Monday’s development, with Kessler picking Auburn as his destination, furthered the flurry of transfer portal activity involving North Carolina.
Virginia forward Justin McKoy committed to the Tar Heels on Saturday, becoming the first roster addition reeled in by Davis, the successor for legendary coach Roy Williams, who retired in a stunning revelation.
The day prior to the 6-8 McKoy’s transfer decision, Brooks entered the portal. The senior forward and North Carolina team leader has played in 133 games for the Tar Heels across the last four seasons, and made 108 starting assignments.
Brooks was honored during Senior Night ceremonies last month at the Smith Center, when North Carolina routed Duke to close the regular season. Like any other athlete in any other sport during this time of coronavirus, he can choose to use the extra year of eligibility waiver offered by the NCAA, and stay in college to play another season as a so-called super senior.
The 6-10 Brooks supplied 10.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game this past season, as North Carolina went 18-11 and was bounced from the NCAA Tournament in one-and-done fashion, losing to Wisconsin in a blowout.
Kessler then entered the transfer portal on March 22, with that move coming three days after the Wisconsin blasting ended the Tar Heels’ season.
Adam Smith is a sports reporter for the Burlington Times-News and USA TODAY Network. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @adam_smithTN on Twitter.
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