Colt McDowell still picks up the phone and calls Sam Walters.

In fact, he did so as recently as this past Saturday for a half-hour chat.

As he does with virtually all of his players, the head coach of The Villages High School boys basketball team does so to occasionally make it known that he’s there and supportive of them.

And that even extends to former players like Walters now, too.

McDowell and Walters have that slight change in their relationship’s title after the latter’s transfer to Montverde Academy. Walters departed the Buffalo program in late September with his recruiting stock skyrocketing.

“I love the kid and I think he made the right decision for himself,” McDowell said of Walters. “You never like to lose anybody, especially a player as talented and skilled as Sam, but I was so glad he got this opportunity. When he told me where he’s going and why, I knew it’d be a great experience for him.”

Walters is one of the country’s finest high school basketball prospects, now enrolled at arguably the nation’s premier preps hoops hotbed. Ranked as the No. 18 recruit nationally in the Class of 2023 by ESPN, the sophomore forward has Division I scholarship offers from the likes of Florida, LSU and Georgetown among others.

Montverde finished a perfect 25-0 and earned a consensus No. 1 ranking nationwide last season, while churning out collegiate and NBA stars such as Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell and Joel Embiid in recent years. The Eagles are projected to have nine players listed in ESPN’s Top 50 recruiting rankings on their roster for the 2020-21 season.

“We tell our kids all the time that we’re going to work to make them the best we possibly can,” McDowell said. “But if there’s a better situation out there for you and you want to take advantage of it, I’ll be the first one to tell you to do it.

“So when someone like him makes a decision like that, there’s no ill feelings whatsoever — it’s love and support.”

With his 6-foot-9-inch frame and ability to shoot from long range, Walters dazzled in his first — and only — season in a Buffalo uniform in 2019-20, posting double-figure point totals in eight games last season. He also averaged 10.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game for the Buffalo Stampeders this fall, before ultimately transferring to Montverde after six offseason contests.

“Losing Sam (Walters) sucks, but we know what we’ve got here,” VHS senior guard Nasir Mann said. “We’ve got guys who have been showing up and working hard, and we’re focused on getting better each day and what we’ve got to do to have a successful season.”

VHS will open its 2020-21 campaign without its former star forward on Nov. 23, when the Buffalo host Class 4A-District 6 foe Hernando at 7:30 p.m.

“I think we really learned to absorb his loss during the fall,” McDowell said of Walters’ departure. “It made us realize what he brought to the table and just how good he was for us. But it also allowed us to see that we’ve still got a lot of really great players here with us in this locker room, and I’m excited to see who’s going to step up for us next.”​