BY WIL CREWS
NEW YORK ––
Auburn center Walker Kessler was selected Thursday night by the Minnesota Timberwolves as the No. 22 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft in New York.
“I’m ecstatic,” Kessler said. “I’m excited for the opportunity. As a kid, you look at this level of basketball and you don’t really understand that it’s a real thing or an attainable thing. And to finally get here, it’s surreal. I’m just so excited.”
Kessler was ranked as the No. 30 overall prospect by Sportingnews.com prior to the draft, but much like his time on the Plains, continued to prove doubters wrong on draft night. Following an underwhelming freshman year at North Carolina, Kessler transferred to Auburn and played well enough last season to be named the 2022 Naismith and NABC Division I National Defensive Player of the Year.
Kessler was also named SEC Defensive Player of the Year and All-SEC First Team, averaging 11.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game. He was key cog in the Tigers team which went on to receive the program’s first-ever national No. 1 ranking, a Regular Season SEC Title, the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and the third-most wins in school history.
“I’m so happy for Walker and his family,” said Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl. “Walker has had to carry the weight of a lot of people that have doubted him. He delivered in a huge way. I felt like Walker affected the game as much as any player in college basketball. He dominated the rim on both ends of the floor. And at the same time, I think his game really translates to the next level.”
Kessler and teammate Jabari Smith — selected No. 3 overall to the Houston Rockets — became the first pair of Auburn basketball teammates to be drafted together in the first round. It’s the second straight year that two Auburn players have been taken in the same draft; JT Thor and Sharife Cooper were both second-round picks last year.
Auburn has now had a player drafted in each of the last four NBA Drafts and six total draft picks in that span with Smith and Kessler. Before that stretch, a player from Auburn had not been drafted since 2001 (18 years).
Kessler became the third member of his family to be drafted into the NBA next to his father Chad Kessler, selected in the fifth round by the Los Angeles Clippers in 1987, and paternal uncle, Alec Kessler, selected 12th overall by the Houston Rockets in 1990.
Kessler joins a Timberwolves team that made its way into the NBA Playoff through the NBA Playoff Play-in Tournament, before being eliminated in six games by the No. 2 seed Memphis Grizzlies. It was the first time the T-Wolves made the playoffs since the 2017-18 season.
Minnesota boasts a strong, young core that is anchored by center Karl Anthony-Towns and soon-to-be third year guard Anthony Edwards (the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft). The biggest knock on Kessler entering the draft was his lack of mobility and outside shot. However, Anthony-Towns was thought of as a bruiser in the paint during his Kentucky days, but has turned into one of the most efficient three-point shooting big men in the NBA. Learning under a still-evolving player like Anthony-Towns should motivate Kessler to improve on his weaknesses.
Regardless, the 7-foot-1-inch Kessler’s dominate defensive presence should make an immediate year-one impact, and Minnesota has a player worth getting excited about.
“Minnesota, I can’t wait to get there and get to work,” Kessler said on Twitter following the draft. “Excited and grateful for the opportunity to represent the organization. LETS GOOO!”