Potential realized: Walters, Jimmies on final four doorstep

Even after leading Jamestown High School to an undefeated Class A state championship and earning North Dakota's Mr. Basketball Award in 2019, the college offers never piled up for Mason Walters.

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University of Jamestown's Mason Walters (33) pulls down one of his 12 rebounds against Faulkner University during the 2021 NAIA Men's Basketball National Championship round of 16 at Municipal Auditorium, Kansas City, Missouri on Thursday, March 18, 2021. (2021

Even after leading Jamestown High School to an undefeated Class A state championship and earning North Dakota's Mr. Basketball Award in 2019, the college offers never piled up for Mason Walters.

Those at the table included NCAA Division II Minot State and down-the-road NAIA program Valley City State, as a then 17-year-old Walters had put up over 21 points and 11 rebounds nightly for the 27-0 Blue Jays, the fourth team in Class A history to run the table.

Maybe it was his age -- Walters has an August birthday -- or maybe coaches just didn't like his game? Whatever the case, not many believed the Jamestown kid was going to mature into the Great Plains Athletic Conference Player of the Year just 24 months later.

Walters has preferred to not take it personally.

"I didn't really try to think about it like that, but, I mean obviously, it crossed my mind," Walters said. "More fuel to the fire, I guess? More motivation to keep working hard."


Walters and his University of Jamestown men's basketball teammates stand one victory away from the NAIA national tournament semifinals this weekend in Kansas City, Missouri. The Jimmies (22-8) will play Shawnee State (28-2) on Saturday at noon in a game that will chop the nation's final eight teams in half.

UJ has never advanced to the final four in men's basketball and is currently rocking underclassmen, like Walters, who were fleshed out by head coach Danny Neville and his staff. Along with realizing Walters' potential when others didn't, the Jimmies have found Minnesota gems in the likes of sophomore Marc Kjos and freshmen guards Will Cordes and Cole Woodford, all of whom have impacted UJ substantially this postseason.

Kjos (11.9 ppg, 4.6 apg), a 5-foot-9 point guard from Lake City, has converted 86 3-pointers on the season at a clip of 48%, including eight in the second half of Thursday's round of 16 victory over Alabama's Faulkner University. Cordes (8.6 ppg, 2 apg, 52 3-pointers), also in the starting lineup, comes from Shakopee, while Woodford (9.7 ppg, 1.8 apg, 53 3-pointers) became a Jimmie via Redwood Falls.

"Danny's done such a good job of recruiting. Not only recruiting Mason, but he's got a system and pinpoints guys that he wants in his program," said Jamestown High school boys basketball coach Jacoby Lloyd, Walters' high school coach. "They do a good job of recognizing some kids that are maybe being under-recruited and bring them in and have a vision for them.

"Marc Kjos was crazy good last night."

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University of Jamestown's Mason Walters (33) celebrates with the Jimmies during UJ's win over Faulkner University at the 2021 NAIA Men's Basketball National Championship round of 16 at Municipal Auditorium, Kansas City, Missouri on Thursday, March 18, 2021. (2021

Walters has been crazy good all season, leading the NAIA with 23 double-doubles and 355 rebounds after packing on roughly 20 pounds of muscle mass since finishing high school with 1,187 career points and 612 career rebounds. The 6-9 forward is on pace to rewrite UJ's record book.


Walters is averaging 18.6 points and 10.5 rebounds in his career with the Jimmies, amassing 987 points and 556 rebounds in two seasons. Brequan Tucker holds UJ's career scoring record at 1,776 points, while Brandon Wilkens is the school's all-time rebounder with 909.

"I kinda flew underneath the radar, but I love that coach Neville and the (UJ) coaching staff gave me an opportunity and I'm just trying to make the most out of it," Walters said. "I'm thankful for all they've done for me and kinda (want to) repay them for that."

Walters earned GPAC Freshman of the Year honors last season, a year in which he hypothetically could've been a senior for Lloyd at JHS. The Blue Jays were once again in the state tournament semifinals last year when COVID-19 abruptly ended the season.

"The Mason that we have right now, that he's become, is obviously hard work and dedication to the game and to the weight room. He's a freak," Lloyd said. "He has a quiet confidence about himself. I think I've seen the most emotion from him this year when he's made some big plays than I've ever seen from him, but he just goes about his business.

"I love watching him play. He carries himself the way everybody should, not just in basketball."

Lloyd also explained Walters' lack of widespread attention coming out of high school isn't exactly unique.

"I think it's a hard thing for college coaches to recruit on potential because that probably has gotten more people fired than hired," Lloyd said. "I always thought about Mason, being relatively young for his grade, that if a program were to take a chance on him ... they could redshirt him and they could've seen what his potential was going to be.

"But I think Jamestown has been a great landing place for him."


The Jimmies executed a light practice Friday morning in anticipation of Saturday's matchup against Shawnee State, a university located opposite Kentucky on the Ohio River in Portsmouth, Ohio. The Bears are currently riding a 24-game winning streak and have the nation's top shot-blocker in 6-11 senior forward EJ Onu (17.9 ppg, 4.3 bpg, 8.1 rpg).

Onu also leads the Bears with 50 3-pointers on the season. Others to look out for are 6-4 senior wing James Jones (19.5 pgg, 4.8 apg) and 6-6 senior wing Miles Thomas (10. ppg).

Onu turned in a triple-double (21 points, 10 rebounds, 10 blocks) in the Bears' 69-59 win over Bethel, Kansas, in Thursday's round of 16.

"He's a good player and I'm looking forward to matching up with him," Walters said. "Coach obviously scouted them last night and we have some stuff we're thinking about matching up-wise, but we'll watch some more film tonight and we'll be ready for them tomorrow."

Lloyd, and the rest of Jamestown, will be watching.

"It's awesome. So much fun," Lloyd said. "It's awesome for the community, it's awesome for Danny. I think there was a lot of doubt in a lot of people's minds of whether Jamestown could compete in the GPAC and now they're putting together some seasons here other schools in the GPAC would dream of."

NAIA Mens' Basketball Championship

At Kansas City, Missouri


(Tournament seeded/records in parentheses)




G1: (16) Bethel, Ind. 83, (1) Indiana Wesleyan 77

G2: (9) Saint Francis, Ind. 67, (8) Stillman, Ala. 67


G3: (5) Shawnee State, Ohio 69, (12) Bethel, Kan. 59


G4: (13) Jamestown 88, (4) Faulkner, Ala. 83



G5: (14) Lewis-Clark State, Idaho (19-1) vs. (3) Oklahoma Wesleyan (21-6), 3:45 p.m.

G6: (6) Marian, Ind. (23-4) vs. (11) Loyola, La. (14-5) 2 p.m.


G7: (7) SAGU, Texas (11-2) vs. (10) Morningside, Iowa (21-5), 5:30 p.m.

G8: (2) William Penn, Iowa (25-1) vs. (15) Carroll, Mont. (19-7), 7:15 p.m.





G9: Bethel (23-10) vs. Saint Francis (26-8), 2 p.m.


G10: Shawnee State (28-2) vs. Jamestown (22-8), noon


G11: Winner G5 vs. Winner G6, TBD


G12: Winner G7 vs. Winner G8, TBD



G13: Winner G9 vs. Winner G10, 6 p.m.

G14: Winner G11 vs. Winner G12, 8 p.m.



G15: Winner G13 vs. Winner G14, 7 p.m.

Savaloja is the sports lead writer for The Jamestown Sun.
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