April 1, 2024

Sam Walters Journey To College Basketball’s Biggest Stage: The NCAA Final Four

3.4 min read| Published On: April 1st, 2024|

By Kyle Coppola

Sam Walters Journey To College Basketball’s Biggest Stage: The NCAA Final Four

3.4 min read| Published On: April 1st, 2024|

For Sam Walters, one year has drastically changed the course of this young man’s life. Sam made it to the top level of high school basketball in Florida last year when he and his team brought The Villages to their first State Championship game in school history. Now Sam is making more history as the first graduate in Villages history to ever make the NCAA Final 4, which is basically like the Super Bowl or College Football Championship.

(Sam Walters sits with the NCAA West Regional Basketball Championship Trophy. Winning it as a freshman is a thrill.)

(What a difference 1 year makes. Here was Sam Walters holding the FHSAA District Championship Trophy just over a year ago at Umatilla High School. Sam got to cut down part of the net for Alabama as the Crimson Tide won the West Regional Championship game and will play in the Final Four against Uconn on Saturday night. Photo Credit – Heidi Walters.)

Just to make it to this stage is an incredible gift. Not just to Sam Walters, who has helped the team as a freshman, but especially to the Alabama seniors: Mark Sears, who has been brilliant, Grant Nelson, and Nick Pringle. All those guys have been special, and Sam is learning under some of the best.

Sam Walters has come a long way. Having watched him since he first stepped foot on the floor as a freshman at The Villages, to his days at Montverde Academy and eventual return to The Villages, Sam has always been a humble person. Sam always takes time for pictures, will listen to you, and is just a really great kid.

(Sam cuts down a section of the net after Alabama’s West Regional Championship victroy, which is tradition.)

To see him have this success and get the opportunity to in Pheonix where the Arizona Cardinals play football, will be amazing. Last year, Sam thought played in the RP Funding Center in Lakeland, Florida. Up until that point, it was one of the biggest places he had played. Then made the jump to Alabama and NCAA Division 1 programs with stadiums ranging in size from 12,000 – 20,000 people. But no player on this roster can possibly be prepared for a stadium that holds 70,000 people watching them play.

(Walters is scene with his team celebrating on the stage after the big win with hands raised in the air in triumph. Photo Credit – Heidi Walters.)

It’s an amazing story. Sam was among the final graduates of the Original Villages Charter High School. That old school is becoming a new Junior High School and a brand new high school opened about 30 minutes south of the old one. The new one looks like a University. That school is the kind of legacy that Sam, Tre Mann, Isaiah Jackson, and others have built over the years.

One of the people who really has truly had an impact on the community is Colt McDowell, the coach of The Villages Charter School. He had a positive impact on Sam and on the school as a whole. Under his leadership, The Villages has grown into the powerhouse basketball school that it is known for today.

(Not to be lost in all of this was just how good The Villages was last year. That team was full of stars. Here was the moment right after the district championship win. Photo credit – Deanna Singleton May.)

Sam Walters is living the dream. We have a few former Lake and Sumter county basketball players in the NBA and college basketball. Keon Ellis from Leesburg High plays with the Sacramento Kings, Tre Mann from The Villages plays with The Charlotte Hornets, and there are many others at the Division 1 level D2, D3, and NAIA schools.

Not all freshmen get to ride this wave to an NCAA Final 4 Appearance. Not all of them even get to play any minutes. However, Sam Walters is averaging about 11-14 minutes per game. He also is scoring points for Alabama. Not bad for a Freshman. When Sam is on the floor, he is contributing while gaining valuable playing time for the future of the Alabama program.

The game against UConn will be difficult. UNC was a good team, but UConn will undoubtedly be the hardest game of the year. It will also be on the most difficult stage. Playing inside Lucas Oil Stadium is almost like playing outdoor basketball. The sightlines are different as it’s a football stadium, the space is cavernous as it’s an NBA Stadium, but it will be an experience of a lifetime for Sam and the rest of his Alabama teammates and families.

We wish Sam Walters and the rest of Alabama the best of luck on Saturday night at 8:49 pm. We want to again congratulate his mother Heidi, brother Matthew, family, friends, and coaches for all the support. Go Sam!!

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About the Author: Kyle Coppola

Kyle Coppola was born in Newton, Massachusetts and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communications from Curry College in 2016. After traveling to Florida on a family vacation, he decided he could not get enough of the warm weather and made the move from snowy Massachusetts to central Florida 8 years ago.

For the last decade Kyle has gained valuable experience in social media content creation, marketing and sales, writing, video production, sports announcing and even broadcasting for local radio stations, such as FM 102.9 in The Villages and FM 91.5 in Massachusetts. Every year he volunteers at The Villages Charter High School as a play-by-play sports announcer for the football games as well as a public address announcer for the basketball games, including the annual Battle at The Villages Tournament.

Outside the office Kyle is a husband and father to two beautiful girls along with their cat. In his spare time he likes to spend time with his family, travel, play golf and swim. He is also a huge sports junkie and even bigger motorsports fan and loves to attend racing events when he can.

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