One of the best Minnesota stories of the year is almost being ignored right now.
With the top-seeded Gophers steadily advancing in the NIT -- they head to New York to play Florida State in the semifinals at 8 p.m. CT on Tuesday -- there has been plenty of talk about the seniors. There has been speculation about Andre Hollins, who has struggled. There has been commentary on coach Richard Pitino's handling of Year One.
Tuesday night, with Austin Hollins exploding for a new career-high 32 points, Mo Walker quietly put up one of the most ridiculous stat lines imaginable, as much as one can quietly do something like that.
Twelve points. Nine rebounds. Four assists. Three blocks. Three steals. Zero turnovers.
And the only reason the performance didn't warrant more turned heads is that most are no longer surprised to see Walker go off.
But think about that for a moment.
At the beginning of the season, there were questions about whether Walker would transfer because no one knew whether he could play in Pitino's system. For that matter, we didn't really know how he played at all. Over the previous few seasons, his soft touch around the basket and formidable size were obvious, but beyond that, there was a stack of unknowns. Even after the Ontario native shed 60 pounds, over the summer it seemed as though it would take him time to learn to play in his new body and to shake the rust.
My, how quickly he's developed.
Walker missed the first six games of the season for a violation of university policies, and then averaged 4.9 points and 3.2 rebounds through the first 13 games. Through the last 17, he's lifted those averages to 8.4 points and 5.2 rebounds a game. If you look only at the last six, those numbers jump to ten points and six rebounds a game.
That's exactly the type of steady and notable improvement a coach dreams about, especially from a wildcard player like Walker was at the season's start.
And perhaps the most encouraging news for Gophers fans is that he'll be around for another season. If this season was any hint of things to come, Walker has the ability to take great leaps again next year. Given what he's shown in the last few weeks, it seems he's only starting to touch his potential.