Annie Nabwe, Mason Walters impacting Jamestown basketball
Annie Nabwe and Mason Walters are two prominent names in the Jamestown basketball community.
One traveled 5,857 miles to Jamestown while the other has lived in the city limits of the Buffalo City his entire life.
Regardless of where each of them came from, Annie Nabwe and Mason Walters have each done their part to put the Jamestown High School and University of Jamestown basketball programs on the map.
“I love playing at home, for my parents and family to watch me play every game is pretty cool and then definitely to be close to home and have all my friends here is pretty sweet,” Walters said.
Mr. Basketball 2019 helped lead the Blue Jays to a perfect 27-0, state title-winning season his senior year. Walters averaged 21.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game during his last season with the Jays. The all-state performer shot 69.4% from the line and averaged 1.3 blocks per game, stats that warranted him being named the Gatorade Player of the Year in 2019.
Believe it or not, he's doing even more for University of Jamestown head men's basketball coach Danny Neville. Through the first six games of the 2021-22 season, the now-junior Walters is averaging 25.7 points per game on 63% shooting from the field.
Walters' consistent improvement culminated in being named a first-team All American, the GPAC player of the year and to the NAIA All-Tournament team for the 2020-21 season.
Nabwe may not have competed against any guys the size of the 6-foot-7 Walters, but the Jamestown High School senior has been battling boys on the boards since she started playing basketball.
Nabwe started playing basketball in sixth grade in Liberia, Africa before her family came to Jamestown her eighth-grade year. Nabwe said that in Liberia, there isn’t a school-specific league for basketball, but there are organized club teams in operation.
"I started basketball because I really like the NBA, and it was challenging," Nabwe said. "I learned from some of my friends and I went to summer basketball camps in Africa."
Nabwe said since Liberia uses the U.S. rulebook when it comes to penalties and scoring, there are not many differences between the African and the North Dakota styles of the game. The main difference was that in Africa, Nabwe competed against and with boys of the same age, forcing her to develop a higher physicality level than many of her American teammates.
"You could definitely see the athleticism out of her -- how fast she could run and how high she could jump," JHS head coach Andy Skunberg said. "She had a lot of raw talent there and we just needed to hone it with those skills. That's definitely been built these last three years. She's come a long way."
The 2020-21 season was Nabwe's inaugural season on Skunberg's roster. The varsity newbie quickly found her stride leading the team in scoring (324 points), shooting (53%), rebounding (239), turnovers (81), and steals (73). Earlier this year, the senior helped the Blue Jays to the team's first state tournament since 2014.
Jamestown ended up falling in the state quarterfinals to state runner-up Fargo Davies 56-46.
While her stats were among the top in the West Region, Nabwe is her own harshest critic.
"I think my game has gotten better," Nabwe said. "When I first came I traveled a lot and I did not use my left hand for layups. Now I don’t travel as much and I’m better at using my left hand than before. I’m still working on it to get better. My coaches here also helped me develop my skills."
Skunberg said Nabwe suited up for Blue Jay assistant coach Amy Joseph's AAU basketball team this summer. Skunberg said competing against teams from Minneapolis and in Iowa provided Nabwe some more game-time experience as that was one of the things lacking from her game last season.
In addition to nailing down some game-time minutes, Skunberg said the senior has been working to figuring out the rhythm of the game, nailing down when to jump, when to shoot and honing in on the little skills that will keep her in the game instead of on the bench in foul trouble.
"Training for this season is going pretty well," Nabwe said. "I am trying to get better and stronger for basketball and track. This season, people should expect me to be having fun with my team, playing hard and competitively and improving from last year."
Skunberg said it's "kind of up to her" about how far she wants to take this.
"She's got the ability but she's got to have the mindset and drive to go out and do it," he said. "They're not going to hand her those stats, she's got to go out there and earn them."
Nabwe was the top-rebounder in the WDA with 197 and while there are many great players in the WDA, if Nabwe were to pit herself against any other WDA athlete, it would be two on her own roster.
"If I were to match against a player -- I couldn't pick one person," Nabwe said. "I would want it to be Katie Falk and Breanna Oettle. They are the most hard-working people I know. They give their all every time which is awesome. I am not saying that because they are on my team."
It's doubtful any GPAC player would want to go one on one with Walters.
Walters’ consistent improvement since becoming a Jimmie is partially due to his work ethic with Neville calling him one of the hardest-working players on the team.
“I think I’ve always just been the type to work hard since I was younger. I was never the best player growing up,” Walters said. “So, I just always had to work for everything and I think it helped me a lot, to this day, just working hard every day in practice and come here.”
In the Jimmies win against Hope International University on Nov. 5, the Royals managed to keep a lid on Walters, only allowing him 12 points on 5-13 shooting. Walters responded to that with a 37-point, 19-rebound performance the next night against Vanguard University.
“He’s one of those guys that cares about winning, he wants to win so if he’s getting doubled, he’s just as happy kicking it out to shooters or letting somebody else go off," Neville said. "He’s a team player and not a lot of people are around our team in practices all the time, so a lot of people don’t get a great look at that stuff. He does a tremendous job of that.”
Neville said that the most underrated parts of Walters’ game will not show up in any box score.
“His work ethic and his humility. If people aren’t around him all the time and just watch him in games, they just see him play," Neville said. "But he’s just a great guy off the court, a good leader. I think we are lucky to have him. A good sign of your best player is him making everybody else better and I think he does a good job of that.”
As a Jamestown native, Walters grew up coming to the Jamestown Civic Center and watching past Jimmie teams, dreaming of one day being a Jimmie himself.
“I know a lot of the alumni and guys that came back,” Walters said. “I grew up watching them so it is pretty cool to be able to play here now and obviously see them and talk to them is pretty cool.”