APTOPIX NCAA Auburn Kansas Basketball

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl celebrates the team's win over Kansas in a second-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Jeff Swinger)

Saturday’s Big Cat Weekend saw several high-profile recruits come to Auburn and see what the campus had to offer. While football was the main attraction for many, Bruce Pearl was busy entertaining basketball prospects, including 6-foot-10 center Walker Kessler.

Kessler – who attends Woodward Academy in College Park, Georgia – hails from a basketball family. Kessler’s father Chad, late uncle Alec, and brother Houston all played at Georgia, with Alec becoming a first-round draft pick and spending five seasons with the Miami Heat.

Kessler has established himself as a strong basketball player in his own right after averaging 21 points and nearly 12 rebounds per game for a Woodward Academy team that reached the Class 4A semifinals. He is also ranked as a five-star prospect, the No. 3 center in the country and the No. 15 overall prospect nationally on 247Sports' composite rankings.

Despite Kessler’s ties to the Bulldogs, Auburn remains very much in play for the big man’s services.

“It’s been great. Obviously, coach Pearl is a great coach (with a) great program,” Kessler said after his visit. “You can really tell all his players play for him. It’s all together, camaraderie that’s not like at other schools. That’s why they went so far, because everyone is playing together. It’s obviously close to home, only about an hour away.

“Beautiful campus, beautiful facilities (and it’s) in the SEC. It’s great.”

Kessler said Auburn is “probably” in his top three schools thanks to its proximity to home and Pearl’s appeal as a coach. Kessler said he loves the Tigers players and came away impressed with their demeanors after spending time with them.

Kessler said Pearl compared him to Los Angeles Lakers player Kyle Kuzma due to the versatility they both have. When asked about the future of the Tigers program, Kessler beamed about the path Pearl and his team appear to be on.

“They’re definitely on the up-rise, no doubt. Look at these two past seasons: two SEC back-to-back championships, a Final Four appearance—I mean, there’s no telling. Who knows, maybe the next two years they’ll win back-to-back national championships.

“Coach Pearl takes these talented players — I’m not dogging them at all — but he takes them and develops them and makes them play together. That’s how you win – when you get a team that all plays together.”

Kessler’s listed his other top choices, saying Duke, Virginia, Gonzaga and North Carolina were among his main schools. He then added Tennessee and Georgia before being asked about his ties to the Bulldogs.

“For sure, I can confirm my family is Georgia,” Kessler said. “I can’t hide that. I’m completely open right now. Definitely completely open.”

Kessler said he hopes to commit in October or November but added that plan could change. He said he expects to take one or two more official visits but then hopes to make a decision.

Kessler added he’ll probably take an unofficial visit back to Auburn, which is no issue given that it’s close by and his family owns a lake house on Lake Martin.

Kessler admitted his recruitment has been a little overwhelming but added his family’s experience has allowed them to talk him through the process. Although he’s starting to get more attention, Kessler said playing under the radar for so long has helped him avoid getting a big head now.

 “I don’t really consider myself a high-profile guy just because the fact I haven’t been here. I’ve always been some no-name guy—you know, just some tall, white, skinny guy who can kind of shoot a little bit,” Kessler said. “I’m blessed, and I really just appreciate the hard work it takes and not to be taking for granted that it could be taken away from me in a second.”

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