When he announced his commitment to Stanford last month, Rivals 100 wing Cameron Walker cited his relationship with the Cardinal coaching staff as one of the determining factors in his decision.
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It's easy to see why that was the case. Stanford started recruiting Walker in his freshman year of high school, and the two sides developed a very close relationship in the years thereafter.
Walker earned his first college offer when he was a freshman in high school, from UC Irvine. That same year, Stanford got involved in Walker's recruitment; they were in attendance for the third game of his varsity season. Along with San Diego State, Stanford was one of the first major programs to start recruiting Walker.
"I think that it was probably the longest as far as (we had) with a school that we were serious about," said Trish Walker, Cameron's mother.
Walker and his family reciprocated that interest. They have visited Stanford's campus almost 10 times. He's participated in two summer camps, attended games, and gotten to know the area.
"We had a really good relationship with Coach Schrage since freshmen year," Trish said. "Within the last year I've gotten to know Coach Payne really well and Coach Dawkins better and Coach O'Toole, too. I had a really good relationship with them through the season. I would always text them, they would always text me back - before games, after games, and we'd always watch all their games, all of that, through the tournament, the Sweet 16 run. (We did) lots of texting but them calling too in the past year when it was allowed."
"The last time we went up there unofficially we had dinner at the coaches' homes (on campus). That was really, really nice because we got to be around them in their environment."
"And like I said they were at our home, so we had some of those really nice personal opportunities with them. I think you can learn a lot about people in those kinds of situations. We have the Pac-12 Networks because I like to watch the coaches and what their styles are. I asked Coach Dawkins on one of our last visits: I said, 'Coach, what do you think about you or your program would be good for Cam? Why do you think he would be a good fit for you, you a good fit for him?' Coach Dawkins said, 'I think that with Cam's personality I can be really good with him because I've coached quiet kids in the past and I think that we would do well together. So I thought that was really interesting. In other words, I think from watching him and talking to him, I think he gets Cam's personality. I think that's important too, as a mom. I feel really comfortable with him in that way, too."
Walker and his family's relationship with the Cardinal coaches also grew through their interactions on the recruiting trail. The Stanford coaching staff was the first that made an in-home visit with the Walker family, and the entire staff has attended Walker's high school and AAU games.
But even as Stanford's strong interest became increasingly apparent, the Cardinal did not extend Walker an official scholarship offer, unlike many of the other schools that were recruiting him. That's because Stanford's admissions standards essentially preclude the program from offering a recruit early in the process.
Without an official offer, Walker and his family had to trust that Stanford's coaches weren't misleading him about their interest, which, of course, they weren't.
"That's the different thing about Stanford," Trish said. "He had offers from schools early on, sophomore year, but they always told us they had to wait for their admissions process... So they were always up front about that. But they always said we really like him, we really want him. Coach Dawkins would say, 'I want you to play for me. I want to coach you.' So we had no reason to believe that wasn't true, what they were telling us, as long as he did what he was supposed to academically."
Stanford was also transparent about their needs in the 2015 recruiting class. They communicated to Walker and his family their plan to sign several wing players in the class, and that while they wanted Walker to be one of them, they couldn't risk striking out at the position.
The honesty was appreciated.
"Stanford always told us that they were looking to get (a few) perimeter players," Trish said. "They were very honest about that. When they first told Cam they wanted to start the application process with him - this is probably like in May - Cam said he wasn't ready to commit yet because he wanted to go through his process because he had told head coaches he was going to go on visits. It was important to him to stick to that because he felt like he gave them his word. And so they told us that they were going to look for other wings. They had to - they're so limited on what kids qualify academically and basketball-wise. Coach Schrage was mostly the one that we talked to about that. He said, 'We're going to be very honest with you about where we are in this process with other kids.'
"So I definitely think they have a lot of integrity and they're honest and forthcoming. They're very easy to talk to. I feel very fortunate that we're in this situation."
When Walker finally did commit to Stanford, his decision was met with near-universal praise - not only from Walker's peers, but also from an unexpected source: some of the coaches at competing universities that were recruiting him.
"Cam himself called all the coaches when he decided to commit to Stanford," Trish said. "And most were very nice about it. I got a text from (a coach at another school). He said that, 'It's a sad day for us but I'm so proud of Cam and he deserves the best education that our league has to offer. It's great for him. He'll do well there.' And he got a lot of similar responses like that, which I thought was very nice and classy. "
Though Trish said that her experience with the recruiting process was largely positive, it wasn't always stress-free. As Cameron's senior year approached, she worried that his inability to come to a decision might cost him a spot at his desired school.
"Not knowing where he was going to go to school to me was stressful," Trish said. "Worrying that he may not make decision soon enough and that he may lose out on an opportunity was very stressful. I was a little bit worried about personally hurting people's feelings, too. I didn't want to do that. Even though I know it's a business for people, I know there are people that felt like they had a really good chance with Cam and they really liked our family. I don't like that part of it but that has to happen (in the recruiting process). So that was stressful to me because I had thought there were going to be some people that were really not going to be happy. But in the end, like I said, I think most people were very understanding of his choice. At this point, when he is going to be a senior, not knowing where he was going was always stressful to me. I was just hoping it would over, really."
And now that Walker has made his decision, much of the pressure of the recruiting process has been alleviated.
"All of us couldn't be happier," Trish said. "He's so excited. I can see it in him. I think there's relief in Cam that I can see, and he's really happy. The first four days (after he committed) he wore every Stanford shirt that he had every day after he left the house, and so did I. We're all very, very happy. We had the opportunity to meet Marcus and his dad (at an AAU tournament in) Las Vegas and that was really nice because they're very nice people. I felt like that was kind of neat, too, because he's going to be going through the exact same process as Cam, obviously getting there at the same time. I really, really feel like we're part of a family and we're very welcome into their family. So it's exciting, as you can tell. We're excited."