Auburn basketball: North Carolina transfer Walker Kessler commits to Auburn

It took a year longer than Auburn basketball might have initially hoped, but it happened:

Walker Kessler is joining the Tigers.

The former five-star recruit announced on social media Monday that he will transfer to Auburn after one season at North Carolina, giving coach Bruce Pearl and staff another huge offseason addition to work with.

“I am excited to play for a great coach at an awesome school and be close to home and my family,” Kessler said. “War eagle!”

Auburn recruited the 7-foot-1, 245-pound center from Newnan, Ga., heavily out of Woodward Academy before he ultimately chose to play for coach Roy Williams and the Tar Heels. Kessler wasn’t much of a factor as a freshman, though, averaging just 4.4 points and 3.2 rebounds in 8.8 minutes per game.

He placed his name into the transfer portal on March 22, a little more than a week before Williams retired. New coach Hubert Davis and his staff reportedly made a huge push to keep Kessler, but he instead will play for the school located right in between his hometown and his family’s vacation home on Lake Martin.

And while his numbers as a freshman weren’t particularly impressive, Kessler is still an outstanding prospect. The No. 22-ranked player in the 2020 class will be the second-highest-rated recruit ever to play for the Tigers, just ahead of departed point guard Sharife Cooper.

The only one who will rank higher is a player who very well could start next to him in the frontcourt — incoming five-star freshman power forward Jabari Smith.

Kessler showed that talent whenever he got a full complement of minutes. He played more than 20 minutes just twice all season, but in those games — against No. 11 Florida State and Notre Dame in the ACC tournament — he averaged 18 points on 76 percent shooting, 10 rebounds and six blocks.

At Auburn, he’ll join a loaded frontcourt that will feature returning starter Jaylin Williams and contributors Babatunde Akingbola and Dylan Cardwell along with him and Smith. JT Thor, the other starter in the frontcourt last season, declared for the NBA draft last month.

Kessler is the third transfer to join the Tigers this offseason, along with guards Zep Jasper (College of Charleston) and Wendell Green Jr. (Eastern Kentucky).