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Jabari Walker focused on strong CU Buffs finish, not uncertain future

Sophomore forward leading Pac-12 in rebounding

BOULDER, CO, Feb. 26, 2022: University ...
University of Colorado Boulder’s Jabari Walker gets past Arizona’s Azoulas Tubelis in the Pac-12 game in Boulder on February 26, 2022. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Not surprisingly, Jabari Walker doesn’t plan to make a decision regarding his basketball future until after the season.

Yet just in case, Colorado Buffaloes fans might be wise to make certain they watch Walker in action while they still can in what remains of the 2021-22 season. With the Buffs preparing for the regular season finale on Saturday at Utah (7:30 p.m. MT, ESPNU), Walker’s play of late has perhaps made the lure of the NBA a little stronger than it was at the start of 2022.

Walker’s focus remains on the Buffs’ pursuit of a top-four finish in the Pac-12, yet he also admitted the looming decision is an almost daily conversation between the sophomore forward and his parents. That, of course, includes his father, former 10-year NBA veteran Samaki Walker.

“I talk about it with my parents pretty much every day now,” Walker said. “It would be an easier decision if I didn’t love this program so much. I love the fans so much, and this team is my brothers. Because it’s this program, who doesn’t want to stay? Who doesn’t want to produce something else for the program and give back even more to what they’ve meant to me?

“To be honest, I don’t know. I’ll know more after the season. I’ll talk with my parents more and I’ll get more to the yes or no.”

Most NBA mock drafts still offer mixed views on Walker — NBADraftnet, for instance, doesn’t even have Walker in its latest two-round draft board — and he still is not generally considered a first-round prospect. Yet his play since mid-January has likely pushed him a little closer to that conversation.

Walker goes into the regular season finale leading the Pac-12 with 15 double-doubles, recording his latest one with 15 points and 14 rebounds in CU’s upset of No. 2 Arizona. He has recorded eight of those double-doubles in 14 games since a Jan. 13 loss at Arizona, where Walker went 2-for-7 with only five rebounds and a season-low four points (not including the Cal State Bakersfield game on Dec. 18, when Walker left after four minutes after suffering a hit to his head).

That game also marked Walker’s low point in his early-season 3-point struggles, going 0-for-2 at Arizona to watch his season percentage drop to .214 (9-for-42). It was a puzzling dip for a player who shot .523 on 3-pointers in a reserve role as a freshman, yet in the 14 games since, Walker has posted a .405 3-point mark (17-for-42).

He goes into the Utah game as the Pac-12’s overall leader in rebounding (9.3) and Walker also is the leader in conference games (10.3). In terms of his NBA prospects, Walker’s combination of size, athleticism, and shooting ability will draw interest. On the other hand, he doesn’t turn 20 until July 30, and the idea he could play his way into the 2023 first round hardly is far-fetched.

“I think if I went through with the whole decision with the workouts and stuff like that, there would be a great chance I’d stay committed to that side of things,” Walker said. “Or I could put my head down and just focus on the team. I don’t want to be kind of in and out. I do want to make a decision so that both sides know what’s going on.”

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