It’s not often said that the best basketball is ahead of a couple of players that helped lead their program to separate appearances in the Sweet 16, the Final 4, and the state championship game.
Then again, players like Sheydan Baggs and Kelan Walker don’t come around often.
The Brunswick High duo concluded their career as Pirates on Monday when they signed their respective letters-of-intent in the school’s auditorium — Baggs with Middle Georgia Prep and Walker with Shorter University.
“I really think both of them are going to be successful, I do,” said Brunswick boys head coach Chris Turner. “I think that they’re going to go help their teams win, just like they’ve helped us win back-to-back-to-back region championships…
“They’ve been a part of just wins. Nothing but that. I really expect them to have a good future.”
Before they were winning region titles with the Pirates, Baggs and Walker were attending Turner’s basketball camp while in elementary school.
As they’ve grown, so have their skills.
Baggs began his senior season as a shooting guard, but he really thrived once he made the move to the point, where he transformed into the “Pirate Playmaker” down the stretch of the season.
“Shakie has really come a long ways,” Turner said. “He got better and better. He was at scoring guard and had to be moved to the point and did an awesome job there. In the state tournament, he was our playmaker, and even in the region tournament. He helped us win the region and he was a major factor in us moving all the way to the Final 4.”
His best game of the season came in Brunswick’s nail-biting victory over Coffee County in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs in which Baggs willed his team to a win with his play on both ends of the court.
Baggs led the Pirates in nearly every phase of the game, finishing with 23 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and clutch shooting from the charity stripe, but even that line belies the impact he had in carrying his team through a cold-shooting first half.
A complete player, Baggs finished the season averaging more than 13 points, five steals, five rebounds, and five assists per game.
“The kid is an exceptional athlete,” Turner said. “He’s an exceptional rebounder for his size, he’s one of the quickest kids I’ve ever coached, and just playmaking skills off the chart, and that’s both offensively and defensively.
“I really believe his best basketball is ahead of him. I’ve been real proud that he’s become the player and the person he’s become. He’s grown up a lot. I’m really excited for him. I think he’s got a real bright future.”
The next step for Baggs is a year at Middle Georgia Prep, where he hopes he can follow in the footsteps of his brother Skyler, who recently signed with Division I program Southern University after playing JUCO ball at South Georgia State.
Going the prep route will also allow Baggs to retain four years of eligibility, as he’ll be able to sign an LOI again next season.
While Baggs is hoping to secure an offer from a Division I or II program next year, it didn’t stop him from basking in the moment Monday with his family in attendance, his niece in her arms, and former teammate Xantavian Pierce, who passed away in March 2018, in his head.
“It’s a dream come true, and once again, I just did it for Tae,” Baggs said after signing. “Everything I do is for Tae.”
Walker also learned a lesson about his basketball mortality when he broke his hand early in the season, forcing him to miss a large chunk of his senior season.
Although devastating at the time, the injury may have been a blessing in disguise for Walker as he dedicated time to improving his conditioning and working on his off hand while he recovered.
“It made me a better player mentally also,” Walker said. “It got me to a point where sitting on the bench watching us lose, it was frustrating, but it helped me mentally, me getting stronger and just realizing a season’s not promised. Anything can happen.”
Walker battled back from the injury to return to the team for the postseason run and helped propel the team to the semifinals by dishing out dimes, crashing the boards, and using his length and athleticism to bother opposing ball handlers.
Healthy again, Walker will have the chance to shine at Shorter.
“Kelan is a special athlete,” Turner said. “He can score. He can rebound. He’s a great student. I definitely think his best basketball is ahead of him, which he only got to play in maybe 10, 11, 12 games this year.
“I know he’s hungry and he’s got a chip on his shoulder.”
When Walker returned from his injury, he just wanted to help the Pirates win while producing some good film for college coaches. With the help of Turner, Walker’s game caught the eye of the coaching staff at Shorter.
Walker expressed his happiness and good fortune in receiving a full ride from Shorter despite missing time this past season, and he’s looking forward to rewarding the program’s trust in him.
“It’s a great atmosphere; I love Shorter,” Walker said. “It’s a beautiful atmosphere. I love the coaches. They care about us, not just the wins or the team, but they care about everybody as a whole and make sure we’re taken care of.
“That’s where I want to be at.”
The humility and passion for the sport radiated from both Baggs and Walker at their signing. Neither showed much interest as their highlights played on the screen behind them, and each quietly thanked their loved ones and supporters for coming out before announcing their decisions.
Even when speaking about what they can bring to their respective new teams, and who they try to emulate their game after, character and work ethic were the buzzwords.
“My favorite player is Curry,” Walker said. “I just like the way he plays, his heart. He can miss 200 shots but then going to shoot the next one. His confidence, that’s what I like about him.
“That’s my favorite player, that’s who I want to be like when I get older.”
Baggs said: “I don’t really like NBA players, I like college players because they work harder. Ja Morant from Murray State, that’s who I look up too.”