Walker brings Gophers much-needed size

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 3, 2013 - 7:50 AM

The 6-10 backup center will be put to the test by two tall Seminoles.

 

When Gophers backup center Mo Walker was told he would miss the first six games of his junior season, staying focused was the immediate challenge.

Walker looked poised for improvement after dropping nearly 60 pounds and excelling in two exhibition games. Before this season, he had endured a vacillating start to his career in maroon and gold, his promise swallowed by weight issues and injuries over the past three seasons. Now, he had been caught violating university policy — the Gophers never unveiled the specific offense — and would miss the first six games of the new Minnesota era under Richard Pitino.

“He was disappointed,” Pitino said. “He’s a prideful kid, and he’s a good kid and he knows he made a mistake. But he’s had a great attitude. He was frustrated. You get all this excitement. Certainly, a new coaching staff and a new regime, that first game — everybody wants to be a part of it, playing really well. But he’s been very positive, I’m proud of him and the team has all stuck by him pretty good.”

A month later, the 6-10 Walker returned to the court, donning his uniform for the first time this season in the Gophers’ second-round game against Arkansas in the Maui Invitational. He appeared more comfortable the next game, against Division II Chaminade.

And with the Gophers facing a big, physical Florida State at home on Tuesday — the Seminoles play two 7-plus-footers in Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo — his return will be highly valued.

For the first six games of the season, starting center Elliott Eliason was the only personnel option to act as rim protector and that made the team incredibly vulnerable to foul trouble. When Eliason did have to sit, 6-8 power forward Joey King had to anchor an extremely small and thin frontcourt.

“That’s definitely huge for us,” Malik Smith said of Walker’s reinstatement. “Our biggest guy is in there, and when he gets into foul trouble, we’re pretty much undersized at all times. To have a guy like Mo come back — a hard worker, a 7-footer — it brings a lot of size and a lot of rebounding.”

After Walker was suspended, Smith said team members texted their teammate, telling him to hold his head high and keep working.

The Ontario native took the advice, he says, doing extra workouts set up by Pitino to maintain his weight and conditioning.

“I had a pretty rough practice after I found out [about the suspension],” Walker said. “But coach said ‘It’s not about you anymore, it’s about the team and do what you’ve got to do to make us better.’ And so that’s what I put all my time and energy and effort into.”

Still, there are challenges for the big man after missing as much time as he did. Walker looked rusty in his debut against Arkansas, managing just one point and one rebound in 11 minutes. Against Chaminade — admittedly a much easier opponent — Walker looked more capable, finishing with 10 points and seven rebounds in a game where he was greatly needed with Eliason struggling.

“It was good to shake some of the rust off,” Walker said. “In the first game, I wasn’t really looking to be aggressive at all. I was much more passive, trying not to do too much. But the second game I felt like I could pretty much do my thing out there. I got a few rebounds early, scored a few points early, and I felt good about myself.”

And of Eliason’s performance in his absence, he noted: “It’s tough to see him out there doing it alone, but at the same time, I’m really happy for him because he played well. He played really well, actually.”

In the six games leading up to Arkansas, Walker wasn’t able to do much other than try to be happy for his teammates. He was active on the bench, cheering and greeting guys as they came off the floor, and he kept Eliason going hard in practice. But the rest must be played out on the court.

“He hasn’t been practicing that much,” Pitino said. “Bits and pieces. Now he’s back in the fold a little bit more. So he’s just going to have to get all the timing and understand what we’re trying to do offensively and defensively. He’ll get acclimated to it sooner rather than later.”

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Cleveland - WP: C. Allen 4 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: G. Holland 3
Baltimore - LP: W. Chen 0 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Pineda 5
Kansas City - WP: D. Duffy 2 FINAL
Cleveland - LP: C. Carrasco 0
Seattle - LP: J. Paxton 4 FINAL
Toronto - WP: J. Happ 14
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Bassitt 2 FINAL
Detroit - LP: K. Lobstein 0
Pittsburgh - WP: F. Liriano 1 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Harang 0
Houston - LP: N. Tropeano 3 FINAL
Texas - WP: D. Holland 4
St. Louis - WP: A. Wainwright 8 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wood 0
Arizona 6 Bottom 8th Inning
Minnesota 2
LA Angels 1 Top 3rd Inning
Oakland 6
San Francisco 2 Bottom 4th Inning
Los Angeles 0
Colorado 0 Top 5th Inning
San Diego 1
Chicago 24 4th Qtr 9:52
NY Jets 19
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Buffalo 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Green Bay 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Tennessee 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Carolina 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Detroit 9/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
Tampa Bay 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Miami 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Oakland
Jacksonville 9/28/14 3:05 PM
San Diego
Atlanta 9/28/14 3:25 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 9/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
New Orleans 9/28/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
Ottawa 2 FINAL
NY Islanders 3
Ottawa 5:00 PM
NY Islanders
New Jersey 5 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Detroit 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Toronto 0 2nd Prd 20:00
Philadelphia 0
Washington 4 FINAL
Philadelphia 5
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
St. Louis 3 FINAL
Dallas 4
Anaheim 3 3rd Prd 9:14
Colorado 2
Colorado 0 2nd Prd 14:17
Anaheim 2
Los Angeles 3 2nd Prd 13:20
Arizona 1
Arizona 0 2nd Prd
Los Angeles 1
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(22) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(13) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 15 FINAL
Montreal 31
Ottawa 32 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pm
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close