Walton-Moss making an impact at Cabrini - and his own life

CABRINI COLLEGE ATHLETICS Aaron Walton-Moss is a leading player at Cabrini.
CABRINI COLLEGE ATHLETICS Aaron Walton-Moss is a leading player at Cabrini.
Posted: January 24, 2014

THERE'S NO TELLING where Aaron Walton-Moss might be, or what he'd be doing, if Cabrini College hadn't, mostly by happenstance, come into his life 3 years ago.

But reality suggests it probably wouldn't be good.

"I mean, just growing up, where I'm from, there's a lot of stuff going on," he said. "And I had it better than a lot of other kids.

"But every day I wake up and I'm thankful I'm alive."

The 6-2 junior guard, who almost assuredly would have been playing at a higher level had he been nearly as proficient in the classroom as he was with a basketball at Camden High, is averaging 26.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists, all team highs, for the third-ranked team in Division III. That's a big deal. But maybe not everything. It used to be.

"I know what it's like to score a lot of baskets," he said. "Now I know what it's like to do well on a test."

Cabrini took a chance on him, maybe because of his background. He was just another guy working out there, with South Jersey's Jason Thompson (Lenape High, Rider University, Sacramento Kings) during the 2011 NBA lockout. Somebody told Cavaliers coach Marcus Kahn he should take a look.

"He was part of a group," recalled Kahn, whose team is 15-0 after making it to the Final Eight last season and the national-title game in 2012. "I really didn't think much of it. Then I get a knock on my door and he introduces himself. He was just trying to get in a school to play. I told him if he could get himself accepted, I'd talk to him. I didn't think I'd ever hear back from this guy. Within a week, he's back with the letter in his hand. The next thing you know, he's here.

"It's wild. But he's earned it."

Walton-Moss, who just turned 23, has a 3-year-old daughter named Aryiaina. He missed the first semester of last season because of academics. But he had a 2.9 grade-point average in the last marking period. It's very much an ongoing progression. Yet, it's obviously way better than the alternative, which could well have meant not much of a future at all.

"I had to grow up, do the adult thing," he said. "Basketball can get you somewhere, but you find out there's more to it than that. I didn't know anything about Cabrini when I got here. It's hard. It's what you make of it. You're on your own, handling your own business. If you want to play ball, you can't do it without putting in the schoolwork too.

"I'm basically starting my life. I want to make sure my daughter doesn't need anything from anyone else. We all go through struggles. I wasn't homeless, but we didn't always have the best sneakers on our feet, stuff like that."

One of his two older brothers died of cancer. A younger brother is a junior at Camden now. They were raised mostly by their mother, who's a big help when it comes to taking care of Aryiaina ("I think she's just happy she finally has a girl," Walton-Moss said).

It was never easy. Sometimes, it still isn't. Yet things are different. Priorities have shifted.

"You take it one day at a time," Walton-Moss acknowleged. "I've never been around this type of culture. I'm used to the inner city. I don't hear the gun shots, or see the cops on every corner. I can really rest at night, without having to worry about anything . . .

"I still have rough moments. That's why it's called school. It doesn't come as quickly for everyone. Some people can't play basketball. Some are good at class. I had to get my mind right. If you can practice basketball to get better, why can't you do the same when it comes to your studies?

"I don't see too many kids from Camden who even want to play sports. They're into the street thing. They want to get money. At the end of the day, that don't do you nothing when you're locked up."

If nothing else, at least there's hope it can turn out better for him and his loved ones.

"I think in the beginning he struggled with it," Kahn said. "From Camden to Radnor, that's such a change. He must have thought he was in heaven. But he was nervous. I don't think he trusted a soul his first year. He learned how to go ask for the help he needed. You have to learn how to learn. That's the good side of sports. That's his vehicle. It's taken him out of that. He just didn't know how to use it.

"I know what the perceptions are from the outside, about his situation here. Obviously, basketball is a part of it. But he's such an engaging young man. And 90 percent of the people here don't really care what he does on the court . . .

"He's opened my eyes to a lot of things. I know what it's like to get a call saying your best friend's been shot, and your cousin was just shot. Here's a kid who's succeeding, for the first time. That's the better story."

It's basketball most of us see. Who says you can't have the best of each?

"It's funny how we just got put together," Walton-Moss said. "I'm not a dummy or anything. I just wasn't the smartest guy. You get to a point where you have to figure it out. You get older. Nobody can do it for you. But they can be there for you.

"That's a good feeling."

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