From open gym to Salem
|Aaron Walton-Moss joined
Cabrini in mid-January and the Cavaliers have not lost
Cabrini athletics photo
By Brian Falzarano
For all of Marcus Kahn's victories along the recruiting trail in his first four years of building Cabrini into a national contender, the X-factor in the Cavaliers' first-ever Final Four run came because of a chance meeting this past summer.
Two-plus years removed from his glory days across the Delaware River at Camden (N.J.) High School, Aaron Walton-Moss came to Cabrini for a pickup game with longtime friend and Sacramento Kings standout Jason Thompson this past summer, a 21-year-old man seeking an opportunity after grades derailed his Division I dreams and the birth of his daughter made college basketball a distant priority.
After one of the pick-up games, Thompson told Kahn about his friend's hope hope of finding a college, which led to a chat between the coach and a young man who eventually became his sixth man. With five straight double-doubles since becoming eligible at midseason, the 6-1 Walton-Moss has recorded five consecutive double-doubles to set up Cabrini's matchup against Illinois Wesleyan this Friday night in the national semifinals.
“I would love to say it was genius recruiting,” the fourth-year head coach chuckled, “but it was more luck than anything.”
If not for subpar academics that led to him playing just 18 games his freshman and sophomore seasons at Camden High, Walton-Moss might be playing in the Division I version of March Madness. However, despite averaging a double-double and earning second team all-state honors as a senior in 2009, the likes of LaSalle, Temple, and UTEP chose not to take a chance on him because he did not make the grades.
“They couldn't offer me anything,” he said wistfully.
In the meantime, he and his girlfriend gave birth to their first daughter, Ariyiania, on June 29, 2010. Instead of pursuing a degree and posting double-doubles, Walton-Moss supported his new family by working at Walmart and for the Camden Bureau of Recreation to help support his daughter.
Eventually, he enrolled at Harcum College, a community college in Bryn Mawr, Pa., for the spring 2011 semester, before the opportunity at the Cabrini open gym presented itself.
After an early adjustment to the college game, the thickly built Walton-Moss (11.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 61.6 FG%) has emerged as the shortest double-double threat in the Division III bracket. He has produced five straight, starting with the Colonial States Athletic Conference title-game triumph over Keystone (18 points, 18 boards) and recording his latest (17 tallies, 10 rebounds) when the Cavaliers eliminated Scranton from the Elite Eight.
|Walton-Moss has averaged 19.3
points and 12.8 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament.
Cabrini athletics photo
In between, Walton-Moss scored all six of Cabrini's overtime points in a 90-88 victory over Hobart, including three free throws in the final 13 seconds of a 22-point, 13-rebound performance. For all of his heroics, however, the Cavaliers walked away most impressed that he skied for a rebound over a pair of 6-7 opponents that night.
“He knows where the ball's gonna be,” said senior point guard and leading scorer Cory Lemons. “He has a real knack for the ball.”
“After every game, we all just say, 'Wow!'” Kahn said.
More than just a wow factor, Walton-Moss has become Cabrini's X-factor despite averaging just 20.7 minutes over 17 games. In addition to diverting defensive attention from all-everything floor leader Lemons (17.7 ppg, 6.5 apg, 6.2 rpg), his presence has created additional scoring opportunities for Jeremy Knowles (12.6 ppg), John Boyd (10.9 ppg), Fran Rafferty (9.7 ppg), and AJ Williams (9.3 ppg) in helping the Cavaliers push past their Sweet 16 appearance last winter.
“I think we're deeper this year,” Lemons said. “Last year, we could six or seven deep. This year, we could eight or nine if we get in foul trouble.”
From a summer open gym, Lemons and Cabrini are two wins from a national championship, in part thanks to a chance encounter this past summer that has been a win-win situation for both the program and Walton-Moss.
“I told them I'll do anything to win,” Walton-Moss said. “I just want to win.”