It's still one of my favorite quotes of the year: Trevor Mbakwe was talking about Mo Walker after the Gophers first exhibition game of the season and what the center's return meant to the team. Mbakwe's answer was blunt and I'm reminded of it a lot when Walker is under the basket.
"You guys saw out there, he’s a big body and people tend to run into him," Mbakwe said on Nov. 1, chuckling. "It’s not very successful [for opponents]."
Two years ago today, the Gophers were playing their first game without Mo Walker after the big man tore the cruciate and meniscus ligament in his right knee in a game vs. South Dakota State -- and the game after was a loss to start the Big Ten season, against Wisconsin.
Two years later, It's been a longer road back for Walker, longer than anyone expected, and there's still a long way yet to go for the bulky center.
But for the first time in his collegiate career, Walker is a factor heading into conference play.
Walker rejoined the team this season as the subject of a lot of hype surrounding a significantly deeper frontcourt, but while the Ontario native has reminded fans of the promise they saw early in the 2010-11 season -- his soft hands, scoring touch and, of course, his sheer size and his ability to almost humorously stop opponents in their tracks -- it hasn't been a seamless return either. Walker has struggled with consistency, has often looked sluggish and slow compared with the Gophers' up-tempo style, and still needs to drop weight.
Last Saturday, though, Walker exhibited another game of hints of what the Gophers can hope to get from him come league play. He rebounded, he got to the line, he scored eight points in total and showed the aggressiveness in the paint that the Gophers will need going forward.
It's been a few years since the Gophers fielded a team that was fully healthy heading into the biggest part of the schedule, but this version looks to buck that trend and give it a shot. And now, Walker will be part of that.